Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Mythical Man Month

by Dhanji R. Prasanna at Rethrick Construction.

I vividly recall my first week at Google. It was in Google's old office in Sydney, high up on the 18th floor of a triangular skyscraper. The views from virtually everywhere in the office were breathtaking. And inside, the walls beamed the warm glow of those wonderful colors so familiar from a childhood playing with Lego--Yellow, Red, Blue and Green.
Fast-forward six months and Google was in a lavish, new office with Walkabout fully underway and around 35 strong. The trouble, I am sure, began a lot earlier but this is when I started to really feel it. First, there was the dreaded endless meeting--they lasted for hours with very little being decided. Then, you started having to push people to provide APIs or code changes that you desperately needed for your feature but that they had little to no interest in beyond the academic.
Of course I enjoyed my time on Wave like no other time in my career. It was equal parts frustration, joy, defeat and passion. I don't regret a single moment of being associated with it. It remains a wonderful attempt at creating something unique, exciting and incomparably bold. Nor do I want to ascribe blame to anyone on the team or Google at large. I just want to point that even the smartest, most motivated and talented people in the world--with a track record of delivering success--are alone not sufficient to overcome complexity that creeps up on you. Maybe we should have known better, but we didn't.

In the end, the man-month as a scalable unit of work is hubris worthy of a Greek tragedy.