Complexity of Systems

I have been arguing in this Blog and its parent website that Management of Change is the number one problem in IT developement and operation. Standish Group seems to confirm that showing that of the top ten causes for project failures are management problems 2/3rds of the time not technical snafus(the other 1/3). And by management problems, Standish cites people conflicts, lack of executive support, and unrealistic time and budgetary resources for IT projects among others.

But Charles Garry at ZiffDavis, writing about Complexity of Systems, cites a strong counter argument. He states that human error in the face of operating ever more complex systems as being the culprit in 90% of system operations problems. Now Operations are not the same as development except in the following sense – development, especially GUI based development, is clearly designed to minimize operational problems.

Clearly as systems become more complex – and n-tier/n-peer systems which can change roles/mode of operation as the dynamics of the situation demand can be tremendously complex to develop for and then operate. But also is it not true that over time, 6 Sigma and Denning-like Industrial Engineering tends to weed out those operational errors and development mistakes?

Ahh – but 6-stigmatizing only works if the system and its processes are not under constant internal and/or infrastructure change and flux itself. Development teams barely have time to settle into client server when n-tier Web based architectures rule the roost. And now those technologies are being supplanted in less than 6 years time by Web Service and SOA-Service Oriented Architectures.

Are we at the edge of the curve such that unrelenting “progress” is not our most important product ? And might there be an ounce too much of Joseph Schumpeters “Creative Destruction” or new, disruptive technology ? Is it the case that in a World of Complex Wicked Problems – the human response time to recognize and fully acknowledge misbehaving systems (think global warming, ozone depletion, smog and energy crises, exponential use of herbicides and pesticides, Web Service before Security is in Place, etc) has been stretched to the limit such that more often than not we are becoming like Handy s Frogs – suddenly finding ourselves boiling to death in our own Progress ? And finally, is this what the Moral Majority are really getting at – you Liberals, you scientists, you visceral Venture Capitalists – you are selling us Creative Destructive Progress which is inadvertently taking us down the drain for your short-term gain at the expense of everybodys long term pain ?

(c)JBSurveyer 2005

For readers interested in this topic, join us at for some viewpoints and book reviews upcoming on this topic.

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