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Poker at Work

By heath - Posted on 07 April 2006

Since it has been crunch time at PDI, I have been thinking a lot about project management. I have been thinking about good management and bad management. One practice I have seen makes me think of the quintessential aspect of poker: bluffing.

Now it is a known fact that people are lazy and will not work if they are not under pressure. So, constant pressure is necessary for top performance. If developers are not under pressure, they will play on their computers and talk about geek stuff without actually developing any real product because developers are undisciplined and do not care about the company's financial condition. Long-term vision is not their strong point, so aggressive deadlines are necessary. It doesn't matter if the deadlines are not reached. Project slippage only further motivates programmers because many of them have an overdeveloped sense of guilt and loyalty. You can channel that by stressing the importance of the deadlines and feature set to the company. When the project slips, they will only work harder. Many times developers can accomplish months of work in a week or two if those weeks are beyond a deadline. This is the appropriate way to motivate a developer.

Management knows nothing about software development. First of all, they give us a list of features and a deadline. We are told to make it work. No one even really asks how long it might actually take to do what is described. The specs are vague in the best cases and incorrect in the worst. The truth is, management does not know what they want, and nobody knows how long it will take. In the end, what gets done will get done. We will end up working our butts off at the end. The stories about all-nighters from this project will just be worked into programmer-lore. Management can't sell incomplete software so we will slip a few weeks. Management won't get all the features it makes up as we go along. Odds are, I'll be writing programs 1, 5, 10 years from now no matter how a single project goes.

This is the state of many teams. Is ours this bad? None of these statements are quotes, but some of them could be. I have heard things like this from both sides.

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