In Search of Dulcinea

An OASIG study in the UK indicated that 7 out of 10 software projects fail in one respect or the other. This is like saying that if software projects were like an air flight, the probability of a passenger reaching their right destination on time, and with no escalation of cost en route, is less than 3 out of 10 trips. Imagine the discomfort and the hassles!
The following image summarizes the bleak picture of a software development lifecycle.

I came across an early version of this picture in the book Software Engineering: A Practioner’s Approach by Roger Pressman when I started to work on software projects over 15 years ago. While the ‘picture’ has changed slightly, it is not a rosy picture as far as software projects are concerned. Ask any end user or a project manager! Based on this, and other similar studies, one company concludes that:

    • An IT project is more likely to fail than succeed
  • A mere 1 out of 5 IT projects is likely to keep customers happy
  • Large scale projects are more likely to fail than small scale projects


Part of the reason for this scenario is that unlike other branches of engineering, software engineering is a relatively new one, less than 40 years old. Compared to software engineering, civil engineering is thousands of years old- remember the Egyptian pyramids that are over 5000 years old, and they are just those that survived. Chemical engineering is hundreds of years old- it were the medieval alchemists who perfected it while trying to conjure gold from other materials. Even electrical engineering is over a hundred years old. At the age of 40, a person usually attains a level of authority in their field of work. So why is it that at this age, software engineering is still struggling to grow up and mature?

In subsequent posts we will examine some of the aspects of software engineering that makes it seem intractable to meet all the goals of software projects- Quality, Cost and Schedule. I will drawn upon my own experience- both the successful and especially the one major unsuccessful project that I once worked on. I have, like many others, learned the science of project management on the job, like in Cervantes’ legendary work by the same name, Don Quixote.

In the software manager’s version, the objective to get Dulcinea is replaced by that of achieving optimum Cost, Quality and Schedule, while riding on the skinny resources (developers?) that in Cervantes’ version was called Rocinante. How the story will be told will depend not only the narrator, but also but the readers. Please leave your disagreements, questions and suggestions in the comments section and I will be happy to let you direct the meanderings of this blog.

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One Response to In Search of Dulcinea

  1. Pingback: Why Software is not an Art « Project Management Notes

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