Below is the transcript from an interview which unfortunately has not been published – yet.
How long has this book taken you to write and when do you get the time?
Well it’s been about two and a half years overall, which seems to be pretty standard for most books of this kind of size. Although there have been six drafts in total, and I’m afraid the quality doesn’t warrant that amount of time. Sorry about that.
But the bulk was done on many a late night, or shall I say early morning, with a bottle of red by my side. That’s the core scenes at least and the main story line. Then just squeezing in a half hour here and there on the train or at home to comb through the text again, and again, and again.
Where did you get the idea for the story from?
From the people I have been working with over the last few years mostly. I mean the world we live in is just so full of content, so rich in deep and not so deep, but mostly very funny things. But the original concept came actually from a brilliant project manager I worked with and she was, or is basically Effie. She said once, something along the lines of: “But it doesn’t have to be as hard as people make out it to be – it’s actually all common sense.” I guess that was the start.
But also in my experience of doing Management Consulting and five year roadmaps for around a dozen companies, some large and some small and therefore being involved in probably 8-10 large transformational projects, ranging from $1-2 million up to $500 million in size. I saw a lot of the kind of behaviour, quite mad behaviour, that is in The I.T. Project. Like I once had a test manager of a very large Telco say to me “They are all running around doing lean Agile, but then they want me to test a major release every 3 months as a waterfall!”. It just didn’t make sense. I also had a another senior executive show me a quote for another very large government bid where they put forward the same project plan over a 2 year project, but the “agile” approach was significantly cheaper. When I questioned him as to how that could be he stated that the customer expected a ‘lean and agile’ approach to naturally be cheaper. How is that even honest when you are defining the same outcome over two years?
Anyway – theses were the main things that kicked it off but then I began discussing these funny goings on with my colleagues and that is how it really happend. Various people I worked with – mentioned in the acknowledgements, really helped as we took the piss out of what was happening. This was how many scenarios and concepts came up, so in realty I guess I just stole other people’s ideas.
Are you anti ‘Agile’ and Project Management methods in general?
Absolutely not. Why would I be? It’s just a method of getting things done and it’s not very different from all the others. You plan it then you do it. Also of course it’s not actually new. If you read the Agile manifesto -who hasn’t right ? Well I haven’t read it all of course – but it really makes a lot of sense and of course is a logical evolution of previous methods for software development. So it’s not some amazing new thing, it’s just an extension of something else.
I mean, I’ve been in IT for over 30 years now and I can tell you there have not been that many really new things that come along – most are, quite rightly, extensions on something else that was around before. That’s the way it should be too.
Are any of the characters real and is Build Well based on an actual company?
Not really. I mean its obvious I have worked for two property companies at some stage, but there are not many obvious similarities. Build Well is fictional but it does incorporate a little bit of every large corporate I have worked in or provided consultancy to, from Finance and Banking to Government and Entertainment. And the characters are all there in some form, but maybe just not all together in one. I mean I have picked bits from a number of people that are similar and put them together – and that includes Uncle Geoff and Zack for sure. I would guess there is at least one of each of those in almost every large corporate.
Is TACOS a thing? I mean does it exist as a methodology, is there more to it?
No – not at all. Well, there is a website – tacos.net.au – so does that mean it’s a thing ? But it is not a thought other philosophy. It’s certainly not a methodology as Effie makes clear. But it is a concept that I think has validity in that the main theme of the book is that people tend to rush around blindly following some methodology because that is what they think they are paid to do, but often they do not think about what they are doing. I think corporates do this as a collective. So in the sense that I believe many people in I.T. delivery actually actively try and ignore the truth and common sense – then, shall I say the need for TACOS as a philosophy is real.
You don’t seem to rate Architects very highly either – and that is your profession. Why is that?
Oh yes definitely. I think many architects are terrible. They are full of ego and completely tied up in their own world of pure architectural bliss. Many don’t come down to earth for months. Then there are others who are so ingrained in their speciality that they just can’t see anything else. One solution fits all problems.
They should be better than they are in my view, and that includes me.
You also aren’t very kind to South Africans – isn’t that where you are from?
Well yes and no. I did live in South Africa for 10 years as a child, but I’m not South African. Unfortunately I think they are easy to pick on as they make great evil and stupid characters and there are many in Australia (South Africans that is, but they are not all evil and stupid, at least only one that I know of). Anyway, so I made the most of that. But it’s probably a bit unfair. However the point where Uncle Geoff says that he has never met a nice South African is in fact a reference to a TV comedy show that was in the UK in the 80’s. It’s just a funny statement that I thought many people would find a little amusing.
Is there a sequel to the IT Project, and if not what is next?
No there isn’t. Effie has done her bit. I do want to finish my non-fiction about my ideas on designing business systems in an intelligent way, that is about 30% done. I’m also in the middle of a trilogy about African history – which is of course way over my head. But otherwise I am editing one of my father’s novels written in the 1960’s about apartheid – so that is probably my next project – as well as normal money earning work.
What would you say are the core messages from this novel?
Well hopefully it is fairly clear. I think many people spend a large amount of time doing things mindlessly because they are told to, and not enough time thinking about why, and why and why they are doing something. The really good successful project managers and I.T. delivery people dig underneath the surface and work out what really needs to be done, but there is a vast army of project people who just do things mindlessly. Then they go home and have a wine and a wank. It’s a shame. What wasted energy! Well , I mean the bit before the wine of course. 🙂