Posted On: Saturday, 14 November 2009 by Rajiv Popat

If you are a programmer or even remotely associated with the world of software development; you have probably seen an entire team; built and function on lies. No; I am not talking about the occasional long nosed marketing weasel who lies to a customer about how much functionality your product has; and how quickly you can get stuff built.

What I am talking about; dear reader; is an entire ecosystem that stems out of the lie of one marketing weasel. Somewhere; during the life time of your project; usually even before the project starts; someone lays a foundation or a contract built on a lie; and then it snowballs from there. Before you know it; you have an entire ecosystem built to survive and thrive in an environment of lies. Jan-Erik explains this much more articulately than me. He explains:

Back when I was doing project work in the traditional waterfall way, I noticed liars all around. Developers lied about the status of their work (more or less deliberately) to the project manager, the customer lied to the project manager about how much functionality they really needed in order to use the product. The salesmen lied to the customer about how quickly the team would deliver.

It was lies all around and we where so used to it that we started to make daily routines to cope with the effect of lies . For this reason, all estimates would for example be padded with a fixed percentage and in all contracts you would find legal statements that would punish the parties if they was caught lying.

It was a cruel environment to work in. We even lied about the process we used, what we said we would do in a sales meeting was often quite different from what we actually did when we started to feel the pressure of delivering.

If you have lived the world of professional software development you can probably connect to Erick's post. Of all the things that Agile does; one of the most important things it does; is that it brings things out in the open. But even Agile; in all it's glory cannot keep the liars out of your project and your professional life if the very foundations of your project are built on lies. Jan discusses this while talking about the benefits and limitations of agile. He explains:

So, where have all the lairs gone? The lying people are still there, even in Agile teams. But it is simply too hard for them to lie and they gain too little from doing it.

Whenever it becomes easier to lie than to be honest and the immediate gains of lying is high enough, they will be back.

If you miss the times of deception and lies, please feel free to put more formalities and team separation into your process. And make sure to have lots of fixed price projects. The liars will be back before you know it.

Let's try to stay honest for a while, it feels much better than the alternative, don't you agree?

Visualize for example; the vice-president of marketing in a meeting room when a simple statement - we-can-get-this-done-in-a-month - can land him with a fixed price project worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars and you might understand how easy it is to find yourself engaging in a tiny little lie that you feel can be turned into reality by putting a just-a-little-bit-of-pressure on your team.

That's when the grand saga of lies begin which pretty much runs downhill; till the time developers give into the pressure and start looping around in the infinite loop of failure.

Look around your office hard enough; and you might actually come across a manager or two who actually want you to lie and tell them the every-thing-is-on-schedule even when it is not.

Look around your office hard enough; and you might also find developers who cannot break the bad news or give up.

Whenever it becomes easier to lie than to be honest and the immediate gains of lying are high enough; people will lie and those very lies will create broken windows that result in projects; careers and organizations coming to a slow painful end.

If you are a programmer; a manager; or a young and budding entrepreneur starting your own organization; might I present to you; dear reader; three simple ground rules that you can stick to and avoid the painful software-development-ecosystems built on lies. The rules are really very simple:

  1. Do not work with clients who want you to meet unrealistic hard dead-lines on fixed time fixed price projects.
  2. Do not hire managers who have a habit of estimating tasks in man-hours.
  3. Do not hire developers who cannot say no and are always ninety percent done.

Yes; all of the above is easier said than done; but I have personally seen organizations that stick to these rules; and reap the benefits by building remarkable software and building meaning.

Remember; every lie in your professional life; is a broken window with the full potential of snowballing into something nasty. Go ahead; say 'no' to your manager; give your estimations in days or weeks instead of hours; fail remarkably and turn down a client who just has to get the product built with every single feature discussed; before the road show which is three weeks from today.

I wish you good luck.

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