You Bet Your Life
Suppose you’re stricken with a medical condition that is fatal unless
properly treated. The doctors recommend surgery. At the hospital,
bravely hoping to scrape up a little optimism, you ask the surgeon about
his experience with this particular operation. He replies, “Don’t worry.
I’ve done this operation a hundred times. You’re going to be just fine.”
That comforting response is designed to remove your anxiety. It’s the
same thing the federal government is telling us about Y2K. Don’t worry.
Our Y2K projects are on schedule and we expect to finish on time. You’re
going to be just fine.
Back to your operation. Since it’s your life on the line, suppose you
ask your surgeon how he did with his other patients, and he says, “Well,
out of a hundred, 50 of them died.”
Now how do you feel about that operation — a little less warm and
fuzzy perhaps? These numbers describe precisely the software industry’s
record of finishing large projects on schedule.
The government’s record is worse.
Studies show that over the past 30 years, half of all large software
projects are either finished late or cancelled. Y2K is the largest and
most expensive software project in history and it has an inflexible
One more thing: Late projects are typically reported to management as
being on schedule until very late in the game. Software Project Managers
typically won’t admit how far behind they are in a late project until
the very end. It’s too easy to believe that by putting in some overtime
and working a little harder, you’ll catch up. To be honest, most won’t
even realize how far behind they are until they get deep into the
Two of our most respected software experts have written on this
aspect of Y2K. Capers Jones in “The Year 2000 Software Problem:
Quantifying the Costs and Assessing the Consequences,” says the
average software project is finished 6-7 months late. Large
projects are completed 26 months late on average.
Ed Yourdon, in “Timebomb 2000,” says this,
- What’s taking place on almost all Y2000 projects is NOT
estimating, but rather a form of “backwards wishful thinking.” It starts
as follows: everyone knows what the “ultimate” deadline is for Y2000 –
we can’t negotiate or ignore that fact. … Indeed, most organizations
have arbitrarily decreed that their Y2000 projects WILL, by golly, be
finished on Dec. 31, 1998. (Mar. 31, 1999, for the federal government.)
Not because anyone did any … estimating, or planning … but simply
because that’s when management has decreed that things will be done. …
This is not a new phenomenon: we’ve been doing it for 30 years, every
time management imposes an arbitrary deadline on project managers …
nobody has the guts to stand up and say, “Hell no!”
The federal government now says that 97 percent of their
critical systems are compliant. I’m having a very hard time believing
it. My conversations with heavy-duty technical types convince me that
what is going on is hasty (read sloppy) remediation followed by
insufficient testing — all done under poor technical management.
There will be immense pressure to fudge the data. Managers can always
claim they’re on schedule by cutting out some testing. Better yet,
simply announce compliancy. That really takes the pressure off. I’m
convinced these supposedly “on time” projects have been declared
compliant because it was politically necessary to do so. And because
that’s when the boss wanted them done.
Lucy and the Y2K Football
There’s a character in the “Peanuts” cartoon series named Lucy. For
years she’s been fooling poor Charlie Brown with a football. She holds
the ball in position for Charlie to kick but at the last moment she
pulls the ball away. Charlie flails away then falls flat on his back.
What makes this gag so funny is that Lucy always assures Charlie that
THIS TIME she won’t move the ball. Good old trusting Charlie always
believes her but she always moves the ball. And down goes Charlie.
The government is Lucy, and you are Charlie Brown.
They want you to ignore their past record and believe them THIS TIME.
They want you to ignore the fact that, in the past, virtually all their
software projects have been late. They want you to ignore a blemished
history of technical ineptitude and decades of outrageously bad
technical management. They want you to believe THIS TIME they’re going
to beat the odds.
They want you to believe they’ll finish every single one of six
thousand four hundred projects on time. They want you to believe they
have pulled off the greatest technical miracle in history. They want you
to have the faith of Charlie Brown.
If you do that, like Charlie, you’ll find yourself flat on your back
on the ground looking up at the sky. And Lucy will be looking down with
the football in her hand saying, “Gotcha!”
Jim Lord is a veteran Y2K expert and author, and a retired Navy
officer. To send this article to a friend, visit Jim Lord’s
website. First published in the “Journal of
Personal Freedom” newsletter.