Thursday, March 3, 2011

About planning and emergency

The title was inspired by Davide Bianchi, that posted out of his office a sign that reads "Pianificazione schifosa dalla tua parte non è emergenza dalla mia parte", which more or less means "if you don't know what planning is about, don't come here complaining, because I have my own priorities". Or, to quote something a little farther on the timeline, "frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn".

It is true that no plan survives the contact with the enemy, but planning is essential. It is one of the core practices of risk management, which, as Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister write in Waltzing with Bears, is "Project Management for Adults". What are the risks? You have to look ahead, and decide how you want to deal with them. Of course hoping for luck is an option... but how good is it? Sometimes you can count on it, maybe because even if your luck abandons you it'll affect but a small portion of the whole project. But, honestly, do you really think that none of those twenty or thirty bad events is actually going to happen? Do you know what the odds are for a chance like this? I was pretty good at statistics, and as far as I can remember the answer is "very, very, very low".

And this is when emergency comes into play. And, obviously, as there were no risk mitigation plans, there are no contingency plans, and your luck is having a holiday, there is a problem. As strange as it may seem, this comes as a complete surprise to many.

When planning fails (if ever there was any) the hunting season for scapegoats open. Little matters the fact that the scapegoats themselves have spent a good part of the previous months asking for a plan, or at least for directions, and trying to raise alarms of all kinds. Don't think scapegoating is something you can ad-lib, it is an art: there is also an article about the art of scapegoating in IT projects. Wikipedia reports that "Scapegoating is a known practice in management where a lower staff employee is blamed for the mistakes of senior executives. This is often due to lack of accountability in upper management."

Unlike as in Davide's office, in my experience bad planning by someone else does transform into an emergency happily hopping and bouncing on your desk. At this point, at least in the eyes of the stakeholder, quality becomes absolutely tradable, because the deadline has stopped soaring and is swooping down on them. Too bad, as what seems a saving today will cost blood and sweat tomorrow (not in a month, but within a week). Ok, maybe not blood. But I can guarantee for sweat - and money. Moreover

poor Martin Fowler
will feel so sad for all that
which is way too bad

featuring both a haiku and a link to an interesting article at the same time.

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