The Vasa Ship and Software Project Management


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I recently had the opportunity to visit the Vasa ship museum at Stockholm. The grandeur and the majesties of the ship truly amazed me. The ship itself has a very intriguing story. The story dates back to the 17th century when King Gustavus Adolphus, the King of Sweden, ordered the building of the Vasa. Sweden was at war and the king needed all the ships that he could get at the Baltic Sea.

King Gustav was deeply involved in the design of the Vasa. After the construction of the ship had started, King Gustav noticed that his enemy, the Poles, had somehow created ships with two deck of guns. He immediately ordered for a modification of the design of the Vasa to make it one of the most powerful ships of the time. The ship designers explained to him that with the current construction, the ship would end up with very little ballast in order to support the two decks of guns which would make the ship unsafe to sail. The king, however, insisted on the new design.

In 1628, the ship was done ready for testing. The ship failed its stability test. It started to tilt widely during the test, so much so that they had to cancel the test. Yet, they decided to go ahead with sailing the ship. On August 10th, 1628, the Vasa launched for her maiden voyage. Within 10 minutes of the launch, a stiff breeze knocked the ship sideways and the ship sank.

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You must be thinking what this history lesson has got to do with software project management. But the Vasa is a story that is a classic example of a project gone awry and it is very often being relived today in many organizations within the software industry. The following are some of the problems that the Vasa faced:

  1. Requirements Creep: After the initial design was confirmed and the construction of the ship had started, the design requirements went through many changes. This resulted in an unstable base platform leading to the sinking of the ship.
  1. Meddling of Senior Management: The King was deeply involved in the design of the ship even though he wasn’t an expert in ship designing. Even though the ship could not handle the modified design, the king insisted on going ahead despite the concerns displayed by the designers.
  1. Testing Failure: Even after the failure of the acceptance test, the ship was allowed to sail without any rectifications. The test results were covered up in order to meet the strict deadline commanded by the king.

Many software projects in recent times have faced and continue to face these same problems leading to huge failures and losses. Can you think of recent examples of software project failures similar to that of the Vasa?

References:

https://iccpm.com/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/RFairley%20MWillshire%20Why_the_vasa_sank.pdf

http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/09/08/king-gustavus-folly-the-story-of-the-vasa/

http://www.stickyminds.com/article/how-save-your-software-project?page=0%2C0

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