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.”

The Original Sin of Technology Projects

Today is the 394th anniversary of the original sin of technology projects. The Swedish King sent out an RFP for a huge warship, and a private contractor was selected to build it. But on second thought, the King wanted the most powerful warship in the world. So he required another deck of cannons to be added. A conscientious engineer would have refused, telling the King that this would make the vessel too top-heavy. But just like a modern contractor, the private shipbuilders accepted the questionable change request and charged extra.

On its maiden voyage, the ship heeled over and sank just off the pier in front of thousands of spectators. Just like in modern IT disasters, a commission investigated, and in the end, nobody was punished.

In every failed technology project, dozens or hundreds of people know it will fail many months or even years before the failure becomes obvious. What are your processes to ensure that you are not building a modern version of the good ship Vasa?

(image by Jorge Lascar/Flickr used under CC BY 2.0)