Gantt charts are a symptom of a disease

Test-driving this one here before I try to finish it and put it on my blog.


Gantt charts are a symptom of a disease. They're like an alcoholic's first DUI. But if you're a startup with a product/engineering team of 5, they're like an alcoholic's first DUI at 16.

Gantt charts are a leading indicator of an organization's or department's demise. They are an indication that a team in a rowboat is starting to bring onboard the steel for the icebreaker they think they're building.

Gantt charts are literally waterfall. The chart is the waterfall.

The waterfall development model originated in the manufacturing and construction industries, where the highly structured physical environments meant that design changes became prohibitively expensive much sooner in the development process. When first adopted for software development, there were no recognized alternatives for knowledge-based creative work.

But it's not just that Gantt charts are a step away from effective, iterative software development.

Gantt charts are a defense mechanism against a lack of trust.


TBM 38/52: Navigating the Product Leadership Fog

What do I think is going on?

The strategic thinkers in your company (VPs and below) are wondering if there is a corporate strategy. They see plans and priorities and know that isn’t a strategy.

Some are trying to fill what they see as the void
Some are checking out (going through the motions)
Some are in blame mode...blaming leaders, each other
Some are leaving

The get-it-done thinkers (at all levels) are thinking “leadership just keeps changing priorities”. They sense something is off. They see plans and priorities and think “great, now we have alignment!” But anyone who has been there for a while is skeptical.

Some of them are trying to fill a void in terms of planning
Some are checking out (going through the motions)
Some are in blame mode...blaming leaders, each other
Some are leaving

...the strategic thinkers and get-it-done thinkers have similar/different needs...Both want coherence, but different types of coherence

The strategic thinkers want a sense of (and contribute to) the current thinking
The get-it-done thinkers want a sense of the stable problems they can solve

Then acknowledge that the big problem is...

Degrading trust levels
Degrading psychological safety levels
Good people leaving

These problems are far more dangerous than you think.

This is an ongoing topic on this website. In the past I've quoted Agile as Trauma here:

There exists many a corner office whose occupant, if forced to choose, will take an absence of surprises over a substantive outcome.

...and Marty Cagan here:

I certainly understand the attraction of scaling with process, and the hunger for a framework or some form of “recipe for success” at scale. But that’s just not the reality in good companies. The truth is that product leadership is hard.

So this is a difficult problem, but why? And why do so many people in business get it wrong?

One reason is that building an effective organization is complex and multivariant. Few people have the broad experience required to build an effective organization. Most business leaders had, or stumbled upon, a reasonably good idea that had product-market fit, and started building. Scaling the organization required to sustain that idea as it spreads and grows is not in their wheelhouse.

Another reason is simple emotional fortitude. All humans make decisions through an emotional lens and few humans have the tools to tune that lens in constructive ways. Running a business is an inherently risky affair, fraught with anxiety, betrayal, and disappointment. We're more likely to build defenses against these experiences than we are to accept and learn from them. The affect landscape of running a business is an inherently trust-eroding one if one does not lean on their better angels.

A final reason is that businesses succeed despite these shortcomings. Product-market fit is by far the biggest component to a business's success, to the extent that even incredibly poorly-run businesses can succeed. There are other such components, and even luck, that matter more than one's software development processes.

So now what?

I actually hadn't read it when i posted that. i just saw the title and wanted to play my part in social justice lol
2022-09-04 15:15:31
I'm really curious to see what you think about the process my employer uses.

I was scared about joining a team that used project management tools like
Gantt Charts
, but so far they've always only used such as dashboards/helpers rather than lost-in-the-sauce-perform-blindly-without-knowing-why processes.

So far the ability to make judgments as always ended with consulting an engineer rather than forcefully pushing down such judgments top-down with no final consultation.

How does your new employer work? I hope that this article is in response to processes you went through of days past rather than nowadays lol
2022-09-04 15:23:25
Unfortunately, this thinking comes from very recent experience...
2022-09-05 01:20:12
Know anyone looking for an engineering leader?
2022-09-06 12:42:18
It's pretty funny how many companies still operate in waterfall, especially in B2B. You're right that it's fear-based (risk aversion) and indicates a lack of trust. Meanwhile they're paying for agile workshops, hiring scrum masters and expecting to iterate at 2x speed while continuing to add complexity and/or drowning in bugs. 
Product leadership is hard, true, but in my view it's mostly because of a lack of vision (and I mean this almost literally, as in the ability to see what's going on now, not what will happen later); if you can't decide on what you need to prioritize in a product between revenue, market reach, and time to market then it's always going to be difficult...
2022-09-06 13:13:07