We are at war and all of you are soldiers defending our dignity"… so
wrote my boss once, in one of his inspiring notes years ago, when the entire
project team was struggling to meet the project deadline. This was true then, it
is true now, and it will remain true in the future as well. The dynamics of
software project management are similar to that of a real-life battlefield and
some of the strategies from defense can be implemented to ensure successful
Generally speaking, software today is a troubled technology plagued by
project failures, cost-overruns, schedule-overruns and poor quality levels. Even
bigger corporations have problems in meeting the published commitments or
releasing trouble-free software. However, not all experience software
catastrophes. Some have managed the delivery process well enough to achieve
better results than others. The reason for their success is strong project
management and strict process compliance–mantras which originated in military
organizations and spread all over.
Here are some common processes between software project management and
real-life war, which deliver ultimate success.
Knowledge of the enemy’s exact location provides the basis for military
action. Precise location of enemy targets is necessary for precision-guided
ammunitions. Amid the swift pace of modern battle, effective communication about
the status of the fight and reliable, real-time command and control are
indispensable to success. The Afghan war is an example of how the seamless
communication flow between air and ground troops improves the effectiveness of
Communication management is defined as a process for generation, collection
and dissemination of project information. These days a lot of projects are
executed remotely, which makes communication a critical success factor for the
projects. There are different levels of communication, which goes on in a
project. But they can be majorly grouped into two categories… intra-project
communication and external communication. Intra-project communication is the
one, which goes on within the project team–from project manager till the
External communication is between the project manager and the client. Both
these types of communication should be in sync to ensure successful project
delivery. It is very important that the expectation of the client reaches each
and every team member and there is a continuous reality check, which goes on. It
is estimated that around 70% of the customers who outsource their IT portfolio
feel that the vendor did not understand their requirement. To a major part blame
it on communication. Take a clue from defense and prepare a communication
strategy. The strategy should be transparent enough to be clearly understood by
customer, project manager and project team. Project review meetings within the
team and with the customer are great tools of communication strategy.
During the current war in Iraq, one can see how Allied forces changed their
action to move quickly toward Baghdad instead of completing the combat in
southern Iraq. The reasons being–their supply lines were stretched and a new
threat of suicide attacks had emerged. They changed their action swiftly and
with accuracy. In the battleground, there’ll always be changes to the combat
operation depending on the scenario. The bottomline is–the change should be
Change management is a reality for software projects. Change management
influences factors to make the change beneficial to the overall project
objective. Changes must be expected and planned for. The very identification of
a change is the crucial piece of change management. An impact analysis needs to
be carried out to judge the extent of change and it’s commercial implications.
Changes are costly and can be disastrous if not managed properly. Organizations
with good processes on change management will always be profitable for each
project and will ensure greater customer satisfaction. The three different
components of change management are change control system, configuration
management and planning readjustment.
The victory of the Allied forces over Germany during the IInd World War,
owes its success to the great leadership of Dwight D Eisenhower. Eisenhower was
a master strategist, who had the ability to lead great campaigns with a
brilliant strategic plan.
Eisenhower was a consistent advocate of clarity in strategic planning,
priorities, objectives, or phases. His famous strategy of "Germany
First" in the Second World War gave Americans the victory they needed.
These days’ software services are delivered and managed as programs for
each customer. Strategic leadership is definitely expected from the mangers who
manage such programs. A clear objective and direction is of utmost essence. The
program team must have the right staffing mix to make delivery coherent. Another
aspect of IT leadership is to ensure strict compliance to processes. People
follow the path of least resistance. If one doesn’t create enough focus and
monitoring mechanism on the processes, people will follow their own methods,
putting the entire project delivery in jeopardy.
Capturing the lessons learnt
There is a common maxim. Military defeat is an army’s best teacher, as it
eliminates, bad processes and leaders, fixes deficiencies and promotes reforms.
Vietnam war is a great example of how a bad combat can teach you so much. After
the Gulf war win then president George Bush (Sr) declared–"Thank god we
have kicked the Vietnam Syndrome for once and all". The United States Army
improved so much after the Vietnam War that all it’s next decisive battles
were short and with minimal casualties.
In software development each project throws out some learning for the project
team and for the organization as a whole.
These can be classified into technical learning and management learning.
Generally, technical learning is what the team learns on the product and it’s
environment. Technical learning is quite straightforward and can be quickly
applied to the future projects. However, management learning is more translucent
and difficult to replicate, as it is derived out of things, which are difficult
to control, e.g. human behavior, process adaptability, environment conditions
etc….. However, despite these obvious issues, lessons learnt at the end of
each project must be run through and captured for future reference. The reason
being they help in throwing enough parameters for the organization to revisit it’s
policies, benchmarks and future sizing initiatives.
Use of technology
US defense IT spending is likely in the range of 80% of the world total. US
defense department spends close to $50 billion on R&D alone. It is estimated
that around 20% of this amount is spent on technological innovation. One can
appreciate the magnitude of what US and allied forces achieved in Iraq and
Afghanistan, where it was proved that a balanced US force of all arms, properly
equipped with modern technology and supported and competently led, could defeat
"any number" of anything else.
From the project management point of view, technology will bring in precision
and speed of execution. Tools will improve the turnaround time in each phase.
Rational is one such company whose tools today can reduce project execution time
considerably. There are designer tools to improve productivity. IDEs (Integrated
Development Environments) and components will reduce the development effort
during coding phase. Testing tools will bring in accuracy to the software
product. However, adaptation of technology cannot happen overnight. The
orientation has to be planned for and needs organization-level initiative. An
organization has to view them as investments, not costs.
These processes between war strategies and project delivery strategies are
not new. But the challenges lie in their implementation. If executed on the
lines of war, a tech project will have higher probabilities of success and
increased customer satisfaction.
The author is project manager at Satyam