Early Reviews - Timing Is Almost Everything - a new book about software management success

Timing Is Almost Everything
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Early Reviews

1) From Capers Jones, VP and CTO, Namcook Analytics LLC, author of 15 software books:
Email: Capers.Jones3[at]gmail.com

As we all know software projects are a troublesome technology with a high failure rates combined with frequent schedule delays and cost overruns. Roland’s Racko’s new book is aimed at software executives who have been unhappy about past software results in their companies. The book uses an interesting combination specific questions that executives should ask, combined with a useful set of graphical displays that can show progress as a project unfolds.

In particular Racko has a set of 10 “high payback” questions which he says are not “geeky” questions. These 10 questions all seem very relevant to modern software projects and can head off the problems I’ve noted during my work as an expert witness in failing software projects.  There are also a number of sub questions as might be expected.

Much of the book’s text deals with the actual questions and then the context of the questions and what kinds of probable answers might occur.  In a sense the book is a kind of modern Socratic dialog, which seems to be a very good way of dealing with complex software planning topics.  The book also has a flavor of Vid Basili’s “goal/question” method in that the questions are aimed at accomplishing certain important goals for software projects. It would be a spoiler to show the 10 questions, but question 2 deals with dependencies and executives are encouraged to ask “how much dependency do we have on X…? "

In general the questions are well designed and well sequenced.  I thought they captured a great deal of software wisdom in a clear and unambiguous fashion. The book’s writing style is clear and the questions Racko introduces are all highly relevant to modern software projects. One of the purposes of the book is to empower higher executives at the CIO, CFO, CTO level to encourage good performance of subordinates without micro-managing subordinate managers and technical staff.

This is not a large book at about 150 pages, but it has very solid content and should be a useful addition to the book shelves of senior software executives, and also to lower level project managers and software technical staff members. Some of the text deals with technical staff issues and Roland even labels these sections “no executives allowed.”  This is an interesting back and forth between management views and technical views.

Racko is publishing his own book and he has also prepared some supplemental materials including an interesting animated video preview and also a website devoted to the book. Towards the end of the book is another interesting questionnaire Racko calls the “anarchy questions.”  The left column has the kinds of answers that would lead to a successful outcome and the right column has the kinds of answers that would lead to failure and possible cancellation of the project.  This questionnaire has a lot of useful information in a fairly concise format. Also at the end is a glossary of the terms used, although most of the terms should be well known to readers who already work in software.

Overall I would say that Roland Racko’s new book will go far in increasing the success rates of important software projects and lowering the alarmingly high odds of software failure, delays, and cost overruns.

2) From Robert DelRossi, Chief Operating Officer, Rocket Gaming Systems
Email: rdr[at]robertdelrossi.com

There exist plenty of courses and guidebooks to teach financial fundamentals to non-financial executives, but where do non-technical business leaders go to better understand and direct the outcome of their expensive, often mission-critical technical projects? The options are surprisingly scant, leaving well-intentioned executives with, at best, a commonsense, though often simplistic approach or, at worst, a sense of helpless inadequacy in what seems like swirling chaos.

In “Timing Is Almost Everything,” Roland Racko has delivered an eminently useful book for smart, non-technical executives looking to better understand their technical teams’ effectiveness and the realistic trajectory of those teams’ projects. By itself, that represents real value, but there is more.

Through the application of an unambiguous framework and some charmingly simple but important questions, Racko provides the reader with the structure to go beyond evaluation and actually influence the direction of projects to more positive outcomes. This is no small accomplishment when one considers how many software projects end up failing completely or delivering a mere shadow of their once intended value.

This is not solely a book of high-minded principles (though they’re there), but a straightforward and digestible guide with immediate value to the busy executive. It doesn’t spend endless pages chronicling the failures that it promises to address, it simply dives right in. The book is focused and clearly written and therefore can affect a non-technical business person’s influence on technological projects almost instantly.

Among a flood of self-help business books, “Timing Is Almost Everything” stands apart. It can be a difference maker for anyone expected to delivery complex technology on time, on spec, and on budget.

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