Modern Middle Manager
Primarily my musings on the practical application of technology and management principles at a financial services company.
What You Don't Test Won't Work

Sunday, December 29, 2002  

The title is a very simple principle I hold dear and expect to be executed in every task and project. Modern systems are far too complex to expect them to perform without flaw when even a simple change is made. Swapped one switch for another? You'd better test. Changed a DHCP attribute? You'd better test. Modified a script you wrote and are dead certain will work the way you think? You damn well better test it thoroughly.

I bring this up because of an article written on another blog that expounds on one previously written here (scroll down if the permalinks aren't working. Sigh). The advantages of the mini-project are:

1. Reducing the span of control. Span of control in project management deals with the number of people on the project. The fewer involved, the higher the quality control and the better the communication between project members.

2. Reducing time to deliver. By producing deliverables quickly, management feels (yes, feels) like the project is moving forward quickly.

3. Reducing variables. Cutting down on complexity means that the team can do more comprehensive testing of each deliverable both before and after being moved into production. Anecdotally, I can say it's been rare that a system tested before and after being moved to production has subsequently failed. However, I have seen failure rates of godawful proportions with systems moved into production and not tested. Hence the mantra I've developed that's featured as this article's title. What you don't test won't work. And what you do test, if it's too complex, probably won't work, either.

The disadvantage to the mini-project is political. As ArmedLiberal mentions, the return on investment (ROI) is much smaller when the grand project is reduced to mini-projects. So if the grand vision will save $3 million over three years, it may be that those savings will be pushed off by accomplishing mini-projects. Why? Because senior management may actually believe a large-scale project can be managed effectively so that the payoff comes more quickly than real results spread out over a longer timeframe. I will postpone a discussion of my company's political landscape and the mines hidden therein until later.

posted by Henry Jenkins | 12/29/2002 01:00:00 AM

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