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T-SQL Tuesday #107 Round Up: Death March Project

Last week I invited you to share a story of a project gone mad – a death march project that you participated in or were impacted by.

If you haven’t already read the invitation please read it first: T-SQL Tuesday #107 Invitation: Death March

Now let’s see a summary of this month’s submissions!

Death March Round-Up Roll Call

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This month we had 15 post submissions about this daunting topic. Two of the posts were from people who had never posted before. To them I say welcome and I hope you enjoyed the experience.

I think, in general, you were all brave to write about this sensitive topic. I know a lot of you are consultants (which is a great way to expose yourself to a death march project) and must be careful about telling stories that could be misconstrued by clients. Nonetheless, with enough obfuscation and redaction you have brought forth some truly horrifying posts! I am going to group the submissions by the most terrible themes that many posts shared.

The Masque of the Migration Red Death

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Planning a migration is like organizing a huge masquerade ball. Hidden surprises lurk in the chamber rooms of the castle. Read them before the clock strikes midnight when darkness, decay, and the red death hold illimitable dominion over all!

Kevin Chant (blog / post) joined us in the fray this month for the first time. He tells us about a hardware upgrade / migration project that went south. It was lies and insidious omissions that led them down a dark path. He was told the software was fine…but it was not. They assumed it had been tested…clearly it had not. Slips and oversights like this can add exponentially more time to an already long project. Tread carefully in the Western Woods where brave souls fear to venture.

Eugene Meidinger (blog / post) reminds us that big projects can sometimes result in big failures. What could be more catastrophic than migrating to a new ERP system? The software was created by an outside company who specialty included heaping piles of poisonous code! Our main character, Eugene, is thrown head first into the fire. As the flames licked his body he pondered weak and weary about the assumptions they had made. He concludes his tale: “Even to this day, I’ve got a certain amount of skittishness around the idea of large projects.”…be warned!

Ron Wheeler (blog / post) is another brave first time participant who gathers us around the campfire. You see – out there in those woods – there lurk SQL Server upgrade and migration projects. When the wind blows they call us saying “your project is doooooomed!”. If you haven’t ever purchased server grade equipment you don’t know the long waits times for hardware. You will be in for a shocking surprise. This one involves obstacles and devious plots like funding surprises, team switch-a-roo by a VP, and other hazards. It does not bode well when the PM refuses to use MS Project and instead uses MS Excel.

Craig Porteous (blog / post) spins a tale from long ago when he was a neophyte wizard with SQL Server. A deadly concoction is made of one-part MS Access, using Excel as the hammer to all nails, sprinkle in some unexpected downtime, and let’s start this at 5pm on a Friday. Once imbibed this potion will drain your life force. His team thought they would summon the migration within a few hours but miscast and realized it would run until Tuesday…and there was supposed to be no downtime! Craig worked restlessly late in the evening, fingers stained by the whiteboard marker, and gained maniacal pleasure when they finally vanquished the evil.

Creeping Doom Scope Creep and Time Despair

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Innocent souls have been victim of scope creep and its impending doom. The Grim Reaper waits for no man and time is of the essence.

Bert Wagner (blog / post) take us on a stroll through the graveyard of projects damned by scope creep! The road to hell is paved with good intentions. First you take your eyes off the focus then you write features nobody asked for or needs. The madness ultimately manifests as many blog entries dying as drafts – never seeing the light of publication. Watch his video and be still when the lights go out…

Andy Levy (blog / post) worked in the tower monolith making sacrifices to the mainframe. His attempts to modernize a workflow were met with rigor mortis refusals. He knew there were more features that had to be implemented than other stakeholders thought and that they would not be pleased. His team then summoned advanced wizards from the magic academy big consulting company. Proposal after design proposal was rejected and cast out of the realm. The consultants could not counter this hex. His key colleague wizard had been shunned from the monolith tower leaving Andy all alone. Delays and slippage happened. Then happened again. In a final valiant effort Andy managed to save the princess and attend his wedding day. However, as a final hex, the system spent more time under development than it ever did in use.

Kenneth Fisher (blog / post) writes about the business bullying you. It all started on a Friday at 4:30pm with a dark request to submit a big change into an ETL system without testing it. The developers protested this was wrong. Management gave the resounding chorus “but it has to be done now”. As is tradition, the DBA was brought in late in the game to help. It is wise to look before you leap lest you fall into a pit for which there is no escape.

Poisonous Politics

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Politics – they are everywhere and seem to bring out the worst in people! They turn regular folks into monsters. Putrid politics have petrified many innocent projects…

Allen White (blog / post) delves into the occult and spins a tale from the crypt about a telemetry data project taken down by the slings and arrows of politics. It is not for the faint of heart – deep inside there lies such horrors as…dare I speak it?…a CUBE in a GROUP BY clause! The horror! The house of assumptions had to be burned down to the ground and rebuilt with dark sorcery.

Bob Pusateri (blog / post) stirs the witches kettle and broods about a project that wasn’t totally through out. Business and management can run anything into the ground grave. In this case they drive a custom Linux file system to the pits of hell. In the darkness you could hear whispers of a dark incantation by management. I shall put the words here, but you must promise me your head if you ever speak these words: “Google created their own file system, so we can do it too”. Bob tried to cast a spell on management that would counter their evil intent: “Google has scale requirements beyond our imagination, and has hundreds of employees with Ph.D.’s in computer science and related fields who can address these problems. We don’t!”. Years later word around the campfire was nobody from the company had ever heard of a custom Linux filesystem being used there…

Andy Leonard (blog / post) looks into the crystal ball and cast tarot cards to inform us that 85% of all BI projects fail. This dystopian future is now! There is an ancient ritual known simply as “deltas”. These changes require self-awareness and meta thinking as Andy describes. Be carefully not to spiral down the hole of circular logic because if you do nobody will be able to save you. Add in a pinch of toad foot and bureaucracy and you conjure up TPS reports, too many meetings, and miscommunications.

Silent Death

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What happens when stakeholders remain silent about project requirements? How about internal sabotage? Carry on weary traveler and know these stories.

Rob Farley (blog / post) is a frequent writer for T-SQL Tuesday and joined us again to extend the streak. Rob warns us of the danger and pitfalls of misaligned expectations and feedback loops. The story weaves an interesting post about demos to the idea of an iceberg. “Don’t make the demo look too done” because clients will judge the progression of the project by how polished the demo appears. This is the iceberg analogy – they only see the tip and do not see the huge mass supporting it. Customers often won’t ask questions until they see what it looks like. Once you see how understanding expectations and requirements can cloud your eyes you will know the ancient and eclectic dark art of software estimations! Captains beware not to steer your vessel into the great ice glacier!

Steve Jones (blog / post) hangs on to the scaffolding on the dark tower during an OOP project. A hired mercenary consultant was brought in to help. Little did Steve know that he was casting his backups to a local workstation and not the network file share. His company would not entertain a VCS for code. He clashed with the consultant over the progress of the work. They were ready to implement their efforts but first needed an artifact to harness the power. They bought a server with 2GB of memory and with much trepidation loaded the software onto the server. During user acceptance testing stakeholders were horrified that the performance was actually worse than before the project. At that time the SQL Server optimizer wasn’t as powerful as today. The actual time spent was double the estimated amount. Luckily no heads rolled but the possibility remained…

Unspeakable Horrors – Do Not Utter Their Name!

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There are some terrors for which we cannot say their name…

Lisa Bohm (blog / post) tells a story that weaves a spider web of deceit from a “friend” and her project. Her seance with the spirit world revealed a future best unseen. When all of your reports are tied to an EAV table and it is one of the busiest tables in the database angels lose their wings. The madness is compounded by trigger-looping hell! She fears for the fate of this project as it descends into insanity! This story is for stout and resolute souls willing to explore undiscovered regions.

Matthew McGiffen (blog / post) outlines a twisted tale of a virus. The virus had infested a demo given to the customer. Burrowed deep within the CD was malicious code waiting to infect a new host. What do you do when that host is your customer? The virus is accompanied by other ancient horrors such as: VB, fortran, and burning CDs. All dark arts forgot long ago by those who knew them. The trickster agent disguised as his manager wrote some software for his project then took off for a two week vacation. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. The CD was found by the most unlikely sort of creature. A customer happily loaded the disc. By that innocent action the entire customer computer system was sick with the plague! The manager was never the same again and mumbled nonstop shaking “warez!”.

Lastly, my contribution, Jeff Mlakar (blog / post) after a long preamble about death march projects and the special fairy dust magic of software estimation I tell a story of a project that was doomed from the start, got worse, then the hero developer miraculously got things to a “good enough” state for the business. Goblins and orcs surrounded me and picked at my flesh. The last developer died left during the project. I was the fresh blood. The noxious fumes from the toxic environment made victory a far away goal. A military mindset combined with GOTO statements, cursors, and spaghetti code made our path a hard one to walk. Only fire could purge this unholy terror. I threw out all the work and rewrote the entire thing in the last moments. Scarred from the ordeal, I left the darkness and never looked back.

Want to Haunt Host?

If you are interested in hosting a future T-SQL Tuesday then please contact Steve Jones. There is an archive of all the previous T-SQL Tuesday events maintained – check it out.

Until the next month, I wish you all a Happy Halloween!

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If you liked this post then you might also like: T-SQL Tuesday #107 – My Death March Project

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