A bridge begins with a blueprint based on mathematical certainties and predicted levels of tolerance that never change. The blueprint is followed precisely. Changes are costly and therefore anathema. The tools used to build the bridge are standard and don't change during construction. The materials are familiar and behave predictably.
Because of all that, we're pretty good at building bridges. They rarely fall down.
But bridges are built to do only one thing: connect two pieces of land so that people can cross between them without falling. Software tries to do many things, and many of them have never been tried. And the tools used to build the software change continuously.
Therefore, as long as software engineers act like bridge builders, they are doomed to fail. And the cost of that failure is beginning to rise.
"If this were the pharmaceutical industry, we'd be killing people," says Joshua Greenbaum, analyst at California-based Enterprise Applications Consulting. Greenbaum tracks ERP, the clay pigeon of software failure stories. "There's no reason to tolerate this level of failure. It tars the software industry. And frankly, it's bad for the CIO."
Check that. It used to be bad for the CIO. Now, in today's economic climate, it's disastrous. Nike issues an earnings warning, and Knight shuffles his executive team. Sobey's ditches a grocery application and its CIO, Bradley Jardine. The consultancy ousts most of its C-level crew.
Desperate to avoid the scapegoat's horns, some technology executives are finally beginning to take up arms against this sea of failure, redefining how software is built. They call it Agile Development, a disciplined, minimalist approach that's both elegant and arduous, and maybe IT's best hope to avoid "Yet Another Trip to Hell".