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Waltzing with Bears: Managing Risk on Software Projects Paperback – 1 Mar 2003


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Product details

  • Paperback: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Dorset House Publishing Co Inc.,U.S. (1 Mar. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0932633609
  • ISBN-13: 978-0932633606
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 102,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Johnston VINE VOICE on 27 Sept. 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an interesting mix. It starts with a philosophical discussion of why it is ethically wrong and success-endangering to ignore risks, but commercially weak to simply avoid them, thus establishing that we must accept and manage risk. The book then develops a comprehensive method for risk management in IT (or other) projects.
It may be surprising where DeMarco & Lister start from, explaining what risk is, why we need to accept it and why we must manage it, but they explain how common attitudes in the IT industry, which they correctly term "pathologies", can make it almost impossible to properly acknowledge and manage risks.
Maybe it's my background as a physicist, but I assumed that most project managers understand the concept of uncertainty in estimates of cost, timescale and benefits. The authors clearly start from the opposite position. This may be a little off-putting for some readers, but will definitely help those to whom this is a new concept, while the use of "uncertainty diagrams" (probability profiles) will be a useful addition to the toolkit even for those more familiar with the underlying ideas.
The book is very strong on how risk impacts budget and schedule, and how to more scientifically make goals and committed targets more realistic. There's a very good discussion of how to assess deadlines using probability theory, which shows the folly of trying to manage large efforts by single deadlines. The book also includes a very good section on brainstorming and analysing different stakeholders' "win" conditions to identify potential risks.
One weakness is the almost total lack of discussion of risk prevention - actively working to prevent a risk materialising, or at least to reduce its probability as well as mitigating its impact.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mr P R Morgan on 20 May 2005
Format: Paperback
There are some very sensible, eminently implementable ideas in this book, even if you have nothing to do with risk management. It is not just about risk, and neither is it just about software projects. Yes, there are strong elements of both, but the discussion is not exclusive. Some of the practical matters discussed include being able to recognise a 'dead' project before it finally rolls over and is declared dead. If there is no life in the beast, then it is no use preserving the carcass.
Risk has been become a vogue word in software development. Everybody talks about it, and says that it is being considered. However, a large part of the discussion is lip service. What is apparent is that 'risk' is not a small subject, and any discussion on this subject will invariably involve weighty matters. How can benefits be calculated? How are costs determined?
So is risk inherently wrong? Risk involves uncertainty. Halfway down the first page of Chapter 1 is a wonderful statement, summing up the gains to be claimed by embarking on a risky venture. "If a project has no risks, don't do it". The authors slay a few myths along the way. It is not wrong to be uncertain. Risk is about trying to minimise the uncertainties, or rather to minimise the damage caused by events that you hope will not happen. Therefore, if you don't know, ask questions about what you do not know. That is very different to some work places, where it is considered bad form to raise items on the risk register. There are instances when blindingly obvious risks have not been considered. "Oh, you mean THAT train" - as it speeds towards you. Projects that negotiate dark railroad tunnels will find trains hurtling towards them. FACT. It is the nightmares that need to be addressed, not the petty worries.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David Wood on 19 Jan. 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a serious book about project management, that's easy and fun to read. Refreshingly, it's "project management" for grown ups. It doesn't talk about Gantt charts, or about checking up on whether engineers have completed the work they committed to complete, etc. Instead, it addresses the more fundamental and difficult issue of risk management.

Any project that doesn't have risk in it probably isn't worth doing. If you try to squeeze all the risk out of a project before you start (which is an approach I've often seen, alas), you'll end up with a lack-lustre and mediocre project. On the other hand, if you rush into a risky project just with a strong "can-do" attitude, hoping to get lots of lucky breaks, the outcome is unlikely to be any more successful for you.

The route the DeMarco and Lister advocate is a very sensible middle ground, where risks are continually assessed and tracked. They give lots of practical guidance on how to carry this out.

An early chapter on the fiasco of the delayed software for the DIA (Dallas International Airport) project is well worth the price of the book on its own. Think that the problem was due to faulty software development procedures? Think again. DeMarco and Lister make it clear that faulty risk-management was to blame.

The book also contains a powerful argument in favour of incremental delivery of projects, in which intermediate versions (containing real value) are made available every few weeks, with "near ready-to-ship" quality. This follows from actively managing the riskiest parts of the project, which should be brought forward in the project (so long as they will deliver real value - which is another question worth exploring) and addressed early. Aggressively managing the risks in this way will result in better predictability, and more satisfaction all round.
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