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The Flawed Project-as-a-Ship Analogy

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The Flawed Project-as-a-Ship Analogy

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It is common for a project leader to see his or herself as the captain of a ship. The project is seen as the ship, and the developers are the crew. When storms hit- the project is behind schedule, over-budget, below quality, falling short of projections and expectations- the captain doubles down and starts to behave more captain-like to stabilize the ship.

There are many bad practices software development captains use to navigate stormy seas. Perhaps the worst of them is to silence dissent and remove “poor performers.” The idea is that by silencing dissenters and removing poor performers, you create smoother sailing for the ship overall, to help ride out the storm.

Unfortunately the ‘project as ship’ analogy is fundamentally flawed. The project is not the ship. The people are the ship. When you remove dissenters, you are ripping out vital structures. You are destroying your sails and your rudders. When you remove “poor performers”, you are throwing out vital reserves that you should instead be better utilizing. You are ripping holes in your hull. When you ‘cut back’ on investing in your people, you are foregoing essential maintenance and leaving your ship in disrepair. The project itself- the artifacts people create- has no place in the ship analogy. The project is a result of an equation of people, not a factor in it.

Focusing on stabilizing the project in times of trouble, rather than growing and nurturing the people that create it, doesn’t make for smoother sailing. It makes for a sinking ship.


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