Physics 2, Business Administration 2

I think Maciej gets it half-right in his comment on the space shuttle disaster.

Physics 2, Business Administration 0
“When a program agrees to spend less money or accelerate a schedule beyond what the engineers and program managers think is reasonable, a small amount of overall risk is added. These little pieces of risk add up until managers are no longer aware of the total program risk, and are, in fact, gambling.
Columbia Accident Investigation Report, pp 139
One of the most sobering conclusions of the Shuttle accident report is that the Columbia was an exact replay of the Challenger – the same false confidence, the same scheduling and funding pressure, the same lack of attention to an intermittent problem whose causes were never understood. There’s even the same badly-designed briefing slide, failing to convey the urgency the engineering team feels, and the same old Edward Tufte on hand to point it out, once the investigation gets into full swing.

Maciej is absolutely right that business managers have no business setting schedules and making risk assessments over the heads of the technical folk.
But he’s wrong to say that the answer is to get rid of every last PHB. Geeks should have the sole voice only on projects whose primary goal is technical.
Where a project has a non-technical objective, the decisions about requirements and scope need to be made by people with domain expertise.
XP gets it right, here, I think. The technical people are the only people who can set the schedule for technical work and assess technical risks. If you ignore this principle, you are living in a world of delusion and inviting disaster.
The people who understand the business objectives should have say over what the project should do and when they think it’s done.
Tangra’s comments about the gaps in the Deanspace program highlight the flaws in a project driven by geeks, for non-geek users. The Deanspace documentation explains the technical features and schedule of the project, but still lack some of the documentation — and features– that are needed to make campaign activist group successful.
This isn’t a fatal flaw — Deanspace is a volunteer project that needs more volunteers to fill in this gap. But it does point out that you need customer input to be effective with a projec that has non-technical goals.

Deanspace critiques

Dave Winer dresses down the Dean Campaign for “getting into the software business.”

The Dean campaign made a big mistake, imho, by getting into the software business. Now it looks like the Edwards campaign is following them. Software and the candidates should be separate. A blogging tool can just as easily be used to advocate for a Republican or a Democrat.

A quick fact-check — DeanSpace isn’t part of the Dean Campaign, it’s a bunch of volunteers who decided to make a website toolkit for Dean activist groups.
Also, Winer doesn’t think that Deanspace should include a new blogging tool.

Users of software tools don’t generally want to switch, so don’t try to make them do it just to support your campaign. Again, think about bringing more bloggers into your tent, not creating a tent that excludes existing bloggers. Let weblogs grow independently of your campaign, no matter how big you are, they will anyway.

The Deanspace crew isn’t trying to change the blogging habits of existing bloggers. The Deanspace kit is a customized content management system, with editing workflow, weblog, and forum features. The group is trying to provide a set of tools to groups, like Seniors for Dean, who want to promote Dean in their community. It would surely be less helpful to give “seniors for Dean” a forum, plus a CMS, plus a weblog.
Tangra on #joiito has some more on-point criticism of the Deanspace project.

The stuff on Deanspace doesn’t say why or how this will help old folks who want to rap about Dean”. The first three questions in the FAQ are:
1) When is it going to be ready? We hope to have version 1.0 ready as soon as possible..
2) Who can use it? anyone…
3) How hard is it to use for general users it should be easy as pie…
Nothing that says what this is, how does it help Dean, how does it help me shape/influence/help Dean’s campaign.

Then again, says I, it’s a volunteer project. If someone wanted to improve the Deanspace website and add tutorials and demos that explained how you’d use it to help the Dean campaign, they could simply volunteer and do it.
No, it’s not perfect. There’s plenty of room for improvement. But the Dean campaign is open to volunteers who do this sort of grassroots project. This sort of decentralized activity is a good thing to see in politics.

Is email really dead?

In the aftermath of the Sobig worm, Ross and many others are forecasting the death of email. This is an over-reaction.
From an IM conversation with Peter Merholz
Peterme: Some of my most valuable (and yes, most frustrating) e-interactions are in discussion groups.
Adina: Discussion groups are complementary with blogs & wikis and such but mailing lists don’t go away. The limitations of discussion groups are:

  • you never reach a conclusion
  • it really helps to use a wiki to get on the same page, literally
  • email is not a good medium to really explore an idea. Blogs are good for that. In a discussion group essays are kinda rude
  • email is not a good medum to sent people links, overload happens fast
  • mailing lists are vulnerable to flaming

Still, for real, live, interactive conversation, email discussion is still great.