I'm no longer going to refer to Iraq as a quagmire. I decided this today when reading this story from the AP's Nedra Pickler:

President Bush says the U.S. military will pull out of Iraq "as quickly as possible," but he is not endorsing Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement that troops could begin returning home this year. "The way I would put it is, American troops will be leaving as quickly as possible, but they won't be leaving until we have completed our mission," Bush said in a Washington Post interview published Sunday.
(emphasis mine)

This is the classic line of Bush administration bullshit: they take what's really bad news for the average guy (in this case, the fighting men and women) and give it a nice veneer of pastel-colored sugar ("we'll be leaving as soon as we can!"). What really disturbs me about it, though, is that I can remember the last time that I heard this kind of bullshit. It was when I was working on a project that turned into a Death March.

For those of you not in the software development world, a Death March is a project that has one or more of its normal constraints exceeded by more than 50%. For example:

  • The schedule is compressed to about 50% what it rationally should be. In this case this is reflected in a lack of planning for the postwar; the assumption was that, once Saddam fell or was captured, the nation would stabilize. Therefore, little or no effort or planning was put into pacification, stabilization or reconstruction.
  • About 50% of the necessary personel are assigned to the project. In this case, this is reflected in not assigning enough manpower to effectively police or pacify the region.
  • About half of the budget and other associated resources needed to complete the project are allocated to the project. This is reflected in the lack of armor and other supplies necessary for troops to complete the mission.
  • Expectations are twice or more what they should be under normal circumstances. There are many examples of this indicator for this war: as I mentioned earlier, the planners of this war didn't allocate the resources to pacify the region because they assumed that the Iraqi people would be compliant. The Bush administration, up until recently, expected elections to proceed nationwide in Iraq. Families are anticipating that troops will start to come home after the election. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Symptoms of a Death March project include low moralle, overworked employees (troops) working longer hours (having their deployments extended indefinitely), slipping deadlines (wrangling over elections), and missed milestones (increased rather than decreased insurgent violence). A more ominous definition of a Death March is that it's a project where the likelihood of failure exceeds 50%.

How do you fix a Death March? You do it, first and foremost, by setting realistic milestones and deadlines. You then make sure that everyone involved has enough resources to accomplish their task. Then, as the project progresses, you regularly meet with all the interested parties to ensure that they are on time and on or under budget. If, for some reason, there is a slippage or a problem, you then adjust the deadlines, milestones, and budget accordingly. You do this immediately in order to avoid progressive compression of the schedule as the final deadline approaches (which then creates a new Death March).

The problem is that I'm seeing all of the symptoms that this war has turned into a Death March, and none of the signs that this is being fixed. In a situation like this, the smartest thing for an employee to do is to resign. Unfortunately, you can't do that when you're a soldier, and so the project continues -- and continues to consume resources (taxpayer dollars, human lives) in the process. Ultimately, the smart thing for the company (the United States) to do is to scrap the project altogether and consider it a lesson in how not to conduct a project (war).

So there you have it: the Iraq Death March. Comments?

Originally posted to Finding God in a Dog on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 03:47 PM PST.

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