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The Mythical Troop-Month*
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The project is late. The quality of the output is poor. Results are not according to plan. Team members are demoralized and over-taxed. The scope of the effort has already been redefined and scaled back numerous times. The customer is furious and demanding change. Alarm bells and sirens go off at all of times of day and night.

Instinct tells the novice project manager – or the more experienced manager who falls victim to the panic created by an out-of-control project – to ADD MORE PEOPLE! More is always better! More resources will surely help get this thing back on track. Existing team members will welcome the assistance and will be able to generate higher quality results. We’ll be able to add back in the items we cut from the original project scope and all will be well in the world. Amen.

So too is W listening to the wrong instincts when he talks about adding a “surge” of troops in Iraq. Is anyone in the administration really naïve enough to believe that by assigning a euphemism such as “surge” to a topic as thorny and incendiary as troop increases, that the public will be swayed into supporting this desperate action simply because it is action? Perhaps anything appeals to those who have dug themselves into such a deep, steeply-walled ditch that the choices have devolved to chaos, quagmire, defeat, conflagration and a legacy of shame and heartbreak.

*The title of this entry is derived from Frederick Brooks’ book The Mythical Man-Month, first published in 1975. Brooks describes his attempts while at IBM to load more people onto a disastrously late software project and the catastrophic results. No more than nine women can have a baby in one month can project members make up for time that has already been lost. In fact, adding more people to the equation generally slows the project down as new members must be trained and acclimated to the environment, and communication channels become further overburdened. It would appear that our political leaders have not learned anything from these lessons in the intervening 31 years.

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