it ind complexity

15 May

it ind complexity

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Once upon a time, Gustav II Adolf, the king of Sweden gave orders to build the
biggest war ship that would ever set sail on the oceans of his time: The Vasa. Among
the planned key features of the vessel were two decks stuffed with cannons. Such a
power of arms has been unprecedented. The king hired the best ship makers from all
over Europe. An impressive gathering of skills, talent, and ambition took place in a
shipyard near Stockholm, Sweden. The admiral of the fleet personally took over the
project management. The construction was led by an architect from the Netherlands
and the designated captain of the new ship. In those days, there were no
construction blueprints or static calculations. The architect applied proportions of
other existing ships and supervised the work of the craftsmen in the shipyard
personally.
During a period of 2 full years, the team created the huge ship from 1,000 oak
trees. The afterdeck raised high above the waterline and had been enriched with
precious ornaments to honor the king: There were beautiful wooden statues resembling
roman warriors. There were lions, mermaids, and images of Greek gods. The
craftsmen attached the huge masts and loaded the 64 heavy cannons. The caliber of
the cannons on the upper deck had been increased late in the project, because there
had been rumors that the enemy was attempting to build a similar ship. Despite this
significant change of the weight distribution, no replanning of the project occurred.
The architect continued to apply the proven proportions to the Vasa’s hulk, which
have worked so well for all of his other ship constructions in the past.
At the very end of the construction phase, the architect ordered the final
testing of the ship. There were two test cases scheduled: First, 30 men should run
back and forth from one side of the ship to the other. Second, the number of men for
that exercise should be doubled.
Unfortunately it turned out that the ship was almost out of control after the
first test. The ballast close to the keel did not match the heavy load of cannons on
the upper deck. The heeling of the ship threatened. It turned out that the ship’s body
had been designed too slim and far too high.
Captain, architect, and admiral had to make a decision: The celebration event
of the ship launch had already been scheduled and was only a few weeks ahead. The
king urged them to send the new ship to war as quickly as possible. Finally, the
architect agreed to ignore the issues and confirmed the launch to his majesty.
On August 10th, 1628, a colorful crowd of people gathered around the harbor
of Stockholm. They wanted to witness how the heavily armed war ship Vasa set sail
for the very first time. On board, the crew opened the portholes for the cannons to
fire salute and greet the cheering citizens. It must have been an amazing view to see
the 1,300 m2 of canvas rising in front of Stockholm’s skyline, as the ship steadily
took up speed.
Suddenly a slight gust of wind turned the Vasa to the side. Water entered the
hulk through the portholes immediately. The ship sank within minutes. The entire
journey of the Vasa was approximately 1,300 m and it took less than half an hour.
More than 30 sailors died during this accident.
Developing modern software faces challenges that are not that much different
from building medieval war ships: There is the “unknown,” since many technical
problems cannot be understood in their entirety at the beginning of the project.
There is the complexity of the infrastructure on which IT solutions are built. There
are challenges arising from international, distributed teams. There are commitments
to stakeholders, as well as not yet identified dependencies, exploding costs, and
rapidly approaching deadlines. There are requirements that come up late in the
game and decisions that are hard to make. There are consequences that are hard to
predict. There are always unexpected issues to mitigate. The required knowledge,
applied set of skills, and available technical information to digest is soaring at a
tremendous rate. And to make everything worse: The complexity of IT solutions can
easily get out of control. At the same time the need for cost-effectiveness is growing
mercilessly.

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