Planning is Utopian: A postscript

In the QA session that followed the presentation by Jim Coudal and Jason Fried I linked to in my last post, a questioner asked whether their ‘making it up as you go along’ approach could work with large teams involved in large projects. The question wasn’t really resolved. I got some friends of mine to listen to the presentation and they raised the same question. So I was interested to stumble across a piece by Chip Morningstar, who works on some very big projects, that echoed Jason Fried’s points.
He argues:
“You might reasonably ask how I can possibly reconcile this extreme skepticism about the value of (or, indeed, the possibility of) planning with what I mainly do for a living, which is to develop large, complex software systems. These undertakings would seem to demand exactly the kind of comprehensive, large-scale planning that I’m criticizing here. Indeed, this is how the world of software engineering has usually approached things, and they have the long history of schedule overruns, budget blowouts, and general mayhem and misery to prove it. Accepting the limitations of human rationality with respect to planning and forecasting is merely bowing to reality.”
And after describing some practical tactics for managing big projects, he concludes:
“In general, it is better to have a clear, simple statement of the goal and a good internal compass, than to have a big, thick document that nobody ever looks at. That good internal compass is key; it’s what distinguishes a top tier executive or developer from the second and third stringers.”
(Thanks to Dave Pollard of “how to save the world” for the link)