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The Cyber Paradox:
Why Technology Problems
Don’t Have Technical Solutions
In this white paper, we discuss why technology so frequently
fails to meet expectations, how that problem developed, and a
strategy for doing better. Despite what many people think,
engineering excellence has little to do with technical factors.
Instead, it is the result of effective attitudes and understanding
truth. Real effectiveness begins not with using the latest
gadgets, but with adopting constructive ways of thinking.
What is the problem, exactly?
Most companies that conduct or sponsor software development work experience constant frustration over
projects that are late, over-budget and defective upon delivery. The problem is so pervasive that it’s
understandable when people become jaded, believing that it’s in the very nature of these projects to be
unpredictable and flawed.
But as Dusty Springfield famously observed: wishing and hoping and thinking and praying is not a strategy for
success. A solution will come from:
1. A clear and correct understanding of the root causes of problems
2. A strategic approach to eliminating those root causes
3. The courage and determination to do what it takes to both “sell” and pursue the strategy
4. The discipline to persist in the approach despite inevitable distractions and opposition
What would it mean to you and your organization if your systems were consistently delivered on time, on
budget and on purpose (well suited to your business need)? It may sound incredible, but that’s actually
On time, on budget and on purpose
Many organizations and their leaders see systems exclusively from the perspective of the
business purpose: the specific function that the system performs. But what good is any
system if it’s unavailable, unreliable, unstable, insecure, and inflexible?
To win in today’s business environment, you need technology that succeeds on all
fronts: technology delivered on time, on budget, and on purpose (suited to your
business needs). That doesn’t happen by accident. It comes about as the result of
discipline, strategic thinking and a clear and correct understanding of the root
causes of problems that have been around for a very long time.
Where we’ve been
In our modern society and economy, we’ve been struggling with technical dysfunction for a long time.
Widespread recognition of the systems development “crisis” came in the 1970s, especially when the US Federal
Government discovered that a distressingly small portion of the systems they developed and funded ever
made it into actual use… perhaps as few as 25%. The response to the crisis was decades of experimentation
with new methodologies and technologies.
The most important of these ideas were iterative development approaches that avoided “high stakes”
commitments, and platform-independent technologies that delivered flexibility in the face of hardware
diversity. Unfortunately, none of these methods and technologies, either individually or in concert, have proven
to be fully effective in solving the crisis.
Why not? Well, the origins of systems dysfunction, as it turns out, are not especially technical, and haven’t been
for decades. They include company culture, management attitudes, budgetary priorities, and dysfunctional
So, technical “solutions” will not address our problems. Real success will only come from gaining a different
understanding of challenges and different approaches to solutions. It will require a change in thinking, and a
change in attitude.
The quality of your company is the quality of your technology.
Before we discuss a path to success, it’s very important to understand something. In fact, if you take only one
idea away from this paper, it should be this: your business is a cyber-business. You probably think your business is
a bank, or a manufacturer, or a service company, or that it’s transportation or health care. You’re right, of
course. But the trouble with thinking that way all the time is that you may fail to appreciate two things:
1. In the 21st century, opportunities for gaining a competitive advantage come primarily through leveraging
technology. Conversely, bad technology can literally end up crashing the business: you can probably think
of companies who have suffered that fate.
2. Technology that truly supports your business must be managed with vision and discipline, two qualities that
must be developed and fostered in even the most technically competent organizations.
Consequently, it is helpful, at least sometimes, to think of any company as being in the technology business.
Like it or not, your company is (sort of) a technology company… even if you outsource. And your success,
regardless of your industry sector, is largely determined by how well you leverage your technology.
What is engineering excellence?
You’ve heard the famous cliché that everyone wants solutions that
are good, cheap and fast, but you can only pick two. But engineering
excellence re-defines these three terms to be achievable and
Think about it: from the perspective of what really matters to a
business, predictability and suitability are actually far more important
than getting a bargain or even the “best” technical solution. If you
can be confident that the promised cost, schedule and functionality
are assured, your decision to commit becomes a simple question of
value, not risk.
Where we need to go
The need for technical leadership has never been greater. But should “leadership” mean?
Doing better… building sound foundations… is conceptually simple, but difficult in execution. It takes courage
to act on the belief that building quality processes now will bring long-term success tomorrow. Sometimes
influential people will fail to grasp the vision and resist changes. Sometimes urgent business imperatives will take
priority over strategic initiatives. But here is an approach that has proven to be successful:
Start with gaining a correct understanding of what the current development
organization is actually capable of achieving. Accepting reality, unpleasant as
that may be, is always the first step toward a solution. If a development
organization is not currently delivering on time, on budget and on purpose, it’s
because the underlying processes simply don’t support the needed results.
Naïvely demanding more is just trying to squeeze blood from a stone.
Reorganizing is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Firing staff
doesn’t change the context in which their replacements will have to work.
Next, it’s critical to use that understanding to create defensible forecasts for
projects and other activities. This often involves overcoming culture that has previously tolerated wild guesses.
Only after establishing realistic deadlines and budgets can rational and integrated project management be
used to ensure that those deadlines are met and costs are contained.
Quality New Meaning
Good Suited to the business
secure and flexible
Cheap Delivered without
Fast Delivered when
Finally, as technical activities proceed, it must be
understood that results are always consequent to the
processes that produce them. Results simply cannot be
dictated or demanded if the processes don’t support
those results. If the results aren’t meeting the needs, it is
the process that needs to be improved.
Businesses that succeed in this brave new world of
technological dependence will share several key
They will be astute enough to understand that
managers without a strong technical background
cannot hope to perform well at managing technical
They will help technologists to contextualize their work
within the broader business needs
They will demand realistic forecasts of costs and
schedules, based on facts and defensible analysis
They will demonstrate an almost visceral
understanding that future success depends on
uncompromising quality today
They will execute both strategically and tactically,
with a profound understanding of how principles drive
processes and procedures, and how activities can be
traced back to ideas
Courage is the key
The success factors described here, despite being
applied in a technology context, are not technical.
Instead, they’re about new ways of thinking about why
targets are being missed.
Change can be challenging, but development teams are
comprised of capable and resourceful people who want
to do what’s right for the team, the company and the customer. With the right support, they can perform
better and accomplish more.
Making a great movie: an analogy
As recently as 20 years ago, creating a cinema-
quality film was impossible for a person of modest
means: the cost of the necessary equipment was
simply out of reach. But with recent
advancements in camera, lighting and audio
technology, aspiring film makers can now
produce movies whose quality rivals that of
Hollywood studio productions. Unfortunately, a
quick visit to YouTube will easily reveal that while
many more people can make movies today,
only a small percentage are actually worth
watching. That’s because a good film, like a
good business system, is about so much more
than the technologies in use.
A good film is dependent on the simultaneous
quality of six factors: the script, performances,
cinematography, sound, music and editing. Only
a few of those factors rely on technology. Many
great films have been made on a shoestring
budget, and many expensive films have failed
spectacularly because the most important factor
is the first: the foundation of a great film is a great
Likewise, getting results from technology involves
not just selecting and using the right gadgets, but
a whole lot more. In a cyber-business like yours,
the “script” required for success is comprised of
the attitudes, beliefs and capabilities of upper
management, which affect the whole company.
Get that right, and it’s much more likely that the
“cast and crew” will fulfill the director’s vision.
Copyright ©2015 Predictable Solutions, LLC
Predictable Solutions offers coaching and support to development and engineering
managers on how to deliver technology projects on time, on budget and on purpose.
http://www.predictable.solutions firstname.lastname@example.org 617-233-0815