“Fairy Bright Eyes”, Projects, and Decay

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“Fairy Bright Eyes” is an installation by Ryan Monro, one of a dozen artworks in Auckland’s Learning Precinct Micro Sites initiative1.  A unexpected curiousity in an unusual location on a university campus, this piece represents beautiful aspirations and their subsequent inevitable decay:

  • A chandelier hangs over an alleyway. At first it symbolises luxury and hope but as it degrades over time it becomes a symbol of dystopia.

i’ve recently encountered a number of situations in which problems have appeared or changes are needed to the deliverables of projects that were closed as success stories, and the organisation’s ability to address those problems or make those changes has been wavering between absent and resentful, and for extraordinary, though predictable, reasons including:

  • the project didn’t deliver that function, and we’re forbidden to work on it now as a business-as-usual activity.
  • the project was outsourced, and nobody here knows how it works, and the documentation we were promised never materialised.
  • the project went live, but there was a lot that got moved into Phase 2, but they spent all the money on Phase 2 fixing problems with Phase 1, and now we don’t have anything that was promised in Phase 2.
  • the project delivered a product, but the only person that knows how it works has moved onto another project, and we’re not allowed to speak with him.
  • the project couldn’t deliver that integration because we failed to overcome political problems with the other system owner, and now there is no funding left anyway.

At once, i was reminded of the chandelier and its spectacular decay from a thing of sparkling beauty into an exhaust-tarnished relic, and reminded of two essential takes on the problem with projects and their definition of success:

  • energy, funding, and resource are assembled and brought to bear in the greenfields stage of a project, and those elements, along with the peculiar nature of the early greenfields condition, enable projects to move quickly and make initial changes and delivery with reasonable agility… but subsequent changes are soon required on top of initial changes, and then the project ends, and a prolonged stagnation period ensues2.
  • the success of an application project can be judged only by its long-term ability to deliver business benefit and by the change-friendliness of its capability delivery3, which is determined by the extent to which its non-functional characteristics have been understood and quality-assured4.

As an industry, we’re doing a terrible job of delivering application projects.  A big part of the solution to turning this terribleness around and improving these projects must come from the enterprise architecture discipline, embedding good behavoiurs, patterns, principles throughout the project lifecycle, from inception through design and delivery to long-term benefits realisation and, eventually, into managed decay.

 

 

 

  1. Various Artists. (2010) Learning Quarter Microsites, described at http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/newseventsculture/Arts/publicart/Pages/learningquartermicrosites.aspx
  2. Krafzig, D., Banke, K., & Slama, D. (2005) Enterprise SOA: Service-Oriented Architecture Best Practices. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-146575-9
  3. Enterprise Architecture in 140 Characters, Brenda Michelson, Elemental Links, http://www.elementallinks.com/2010/02/17/enterprise-architecture-in-140-characters/
  4. Kyte, A. (2011) In Application Projects, ‘Success’ Needs Many Definitions. Gartner Research, Article ID #G00210218.
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