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Unacknowledged fear is the source of all software project failures: discuss

XP rhetoric is characterized by broad and sweeping generalizations about software development practice, projects and developers. A classic example is the following, from Kent Beck:

Unacknowledged fear is the source of all software project failures [1]

It takes a special kind of person to make such claims - specifically, one that is breathtakingly arrogant. - Hacknot

I wonder. Does anyone think that Kent Beck's claim is arrogant? More importantly, does anyone think it's wrong?

April 19, 2004 11:48 AM


Charles Miller
(April 19, 2004 01:17 PM #)

I'd have to agree with Mr Ed here.

Projects fail due to bad planning. They fail due to arrogance. They fail due to bad luck. They fail due to changing circumstances. They fail due to unchecked ambition. They fail due to mismanagement.

If you twist the interpretation the right way, you can explain much of the above as "unacknowledged fear". The managers were incompetent, but the programmers were too "afraid" to do anything about it. The fact they were in no position to do anything about it but quit (and in the process have the project fail anyway, _and_ be taking food out of their children's mouths) would be ignored. This sort of re-interpretation obscures more than it reveals.

Of course, exaggeration for rhetorical effect is what evangelists do.

John Roth
(April 19, 2004 02:11 PM #)

In one sense, I have to agree with Kent. I'm put in mind of another quote: "Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results." We know that conventional development methods have an unacceptably high rate of failure, so why do we persist in trying to make them work?

Having dealt with "personal growth" and "spiritual" groups for a number of decades, I agree that not dealing with what is obviously needed is usually rooted in fear. However, that isn't helpful for most of us. Most of us don't have a systematic personal, spiritual or religious practice that works at systematically identifying fears and dealing with them.

That's why I've pretty much ignored Kent's "courage" value. It's an exhortation that's been thundered from the pulpits and mouthed by coaches and military leaders practically forever, and it doesn't seem to have had any pervasive effect.

Projects fail because of some combination of the wrong process and the wrong people. Both can be changed, neither can be changed without having to deal with the consequences.

John Roth

Mike Kozlowski
(April 19, 2004 03:53 PM #)

I can't disagree, because I don't know what it means. But I can assert with the same authority that all doomed projects are doomed by tentativeness. Or haste. Or a lack of desire.

Yay for unfalsifiable statements!

Keith Sader
(April 20, 2004 12:01 PM #)

I don't particularly think that Mr. Beck's statement is arrogant. Considering the source of comment on the comment though, I consider it axe-grinding fodder for the decidily(sp?) anti-xp folks at hacknot.
XP zealots will praise it as holy words given by a prophet, anti-xp folks, well we've already seen. The rest of us have a new phrase in our lexicon to describe the status quo.

Bryan Rasmussen
(April 20, 2004 05:12 PM #)

The aphorism is the defense of wit against reason.

The repeated aphorism is an appeal to the authority of wit against all attempts at argumentation.

Bryan Rasmussen
(April 20, 2004 05:18 PM #)

All projects fail for a reason therefore any project that fails has failed for the same reason that all projects fail for. All software projects should succeed, because the success of all projects in any particular field of human endeavor is the rule rather than the exception, in fact the field of software projects is the only exception to this widely known rule.

--Alice's Misadventures in the Software Dept.

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