Think ‘experiment’ instead of ‘project’

I ranted a little bit yesterday on killing the word ‘project’, and and I was asked, “well, what should we use instead?”

Great question, I would love to tell you.

Projects give off an aura of “beginning, middle, and end”. At some point, this thing will be done. And that’s not true in software. There may be a point where we don’t use it any more (we ‘kill’ it), or it may fail at its purpose, but as long as we’re using it, it’s not done. It’s going to need security updates, framework updates, and at the very least bug fixes.

And so calling software a “project” is a bit like having a kid and calling it an accessory to your lifestyle.

Instead, software that isn’t meant to be a ‘product’ (that is, have the understanding going into it that there will be long term support and a budget) should be called an experiment. Because it is.

We’re not naive enough to believe this IT Modernization project (see, I just did it!) will succeed because we spent millions of dollars and tens of thousands of people hours on it. It’s an experiment. It’s an experiment because Sue in accounting who has been here for the last 25 years basically runs your entire payroll infrastructure even though her title is “Sue in accounting”. Your modernization project will fail if Sue in Accounting isn’t happy, regardless of how you dress up the project. So it’s not a project; it does not have a beginning, middle, or end. It has a beginning, Oh-god-I-hope-we-win-Sue-over, and then support. And if you don’t win Sue in accounting over, you’re going to have a bad day.

So call it an experiment, and don’t let anyone lie to you about the real nature of software: it only succeeds if we successfully sell it to the people who are going to use it.

This post originally appeared in my daily email list on January 13, 2023. I publish emails daily, and put them here when I remember to. If you want to stay up to date, join my mailing list. Details below.

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