Very Few Things are Impossible

You can get anything you want. But you have to ask for it. The U.S. had an election last Tuesday, and they still don’t know the result. We had an election in Denmark on Nov 1st. As usual, our result was ready before midnight on election day.

Now, we actually count paper ballots here in Denmark, and the U.S. uses computers. But that isn’t the whole explanation of why we are so much faster. The main reason is that we have decided that we want a quick result. Thus, we have a cut-off date for advance voting three days before election day, and all the advance votes are ready to count on election day. Vote counting is easily parallelized, and we have enough people counting. The U.S. could do the same, but they have prioritized other factors.

When IT says something can’t be done, it is rarely true. It might indeed be difficult, or expensive, or require you to give up functionality of higher value. If you work in IT, don’t say something is impossible. If you request work from IT, don’t accept the answer of “impossible.”

Why Should the Business Trust You With Their Money?

“Give us a bag of money and go away.” That seems to be the thinking of most in the #NoEstimates movement. They have, of course, misunderstood the original concept, just like people who claim to do Agile when all they’ve done is to do away with the documentation. I agree that estimation is hard and software is complex, but asking the business to commit money for unknown benefits in the uncertain future represents monumental hubris. The real world works by comparing costs and benefits, even though both cannot be evaluated exactly.

I’ll be meeting some of the best and brightest IT architects in Denmark at the annual Software Architecture Open Space next week. This is an open-format conference, and I noticed some of the other participants have already brought up estimation and #NoEstimates as a topic. I’m looking forward to an interesting discussion. If you are in the vicinity of Copenhagen on Nov 3rd, I encourage you to participate in SAOS as well. You’ll surely learn something.

Yet Another Project With No Business Case

There is nothing so good that you cannot do it badly. Case in point: Recycling. I’ve just received five new recycling containers in my summer cottage. The point is for me to sort plastic, cardboard, metal, paper, dangerous items, organic waste, and the remainder in separate compartments. I’m all for recycling, but I was curious about the business case for providing new plastic containers for summer cottages with limited amounts of waste and driving around with more big trucks on little dirt roads to collect the stuff.

It turns out there isn’t one. The danish Engineer’s Association has a weekly newspaper, and they have been running stories on this. Dispassionate calculation shows that the cost in money and CO2 of collecting and sorting several of these waste fractions far exceeds the benefit of recycling. For plastic waste, it turns out that we have to drive it – in trucks – to neighboring Germany because we don’t have a facility to reuse it in Denmark.

Surely, the government that invented this process would have a good counterpoint? Nope. I’ve been looking through several government websites. There is a lot of greenery and nice words, but no business case for recycling as much as we currently attempt to do.

So here in Denmark, recycling is a project with a worthy goal, political backing, and no business case. Have you ever seen something like that happen in IT?