Management is the number one random process element

Oct 16th, 2002 by Tony in QSM3

I recently read about William Shanks, who in the 19th Century took twenty years to compute pi to 707 digits, but made a mistake in the 528th decimal place. Today, to compute pi to 707 decimal places, I can invoke a program called Mathematica on my desktop with the instruction: N[Pi,707]. 10 seconds later I have my 707 places, all correct this time.

Because of software technology, I have achieved truly spectacular increases in performance, cost, and quality. But this problem has an important characteristic: It involves essentially no management! If they did involve management, the spectacular gains made possible by tools would evaporate. What would happen in your organization if a customer submitted a request to compute pi to 707 decimal places? Is this a ten-second job?

I had a number of my students conduct this pi-to-707-decimal-places test in their organizations, secretly asking a customer to submit the request. Here are some of the results:

  • After one week, the request form was returned by a clerk with the comment “Incorrectly completed.”
  • The request form was never returned, never acted on, and never heard of again three months later. (This was the most frequent “response”)
  • The customer received a call from a secretary to schedule a meeting with an analyst. The analyst had no available time for more than a month.
  • The request form was returned in ten days marked “you’re not serious”
  • Several replies were in terms of programming estimates, which ranged from three weeks to four months
  • One customer got a printout of pi to 1,000 decimal places
  • One customer was asked on the phone wehter he wanted a printout or a file on disk. He asked for the file, and was given it by hand less than an hour later.

To me this silly little survey simply confirms what I have observed directly in dozens of organizations. The variation in service produced by these organizations didn’t come from the differences in technology, because all had access to the same technology. The variation came from the differences in management. In software work today, Management is the number one random process element

— Jerry Weinberg, Quality Software Management Vol 3, Chapter 1

No Comments