The software version of: The Emperor’s New Clothes

People like to hear stories. So do I, stories can give insight to a problem from a different perspective. Recently I saw a parallel between a great story and the world of software. The story is about the Emperor’s New Clothes. Here is the short version of the story.

Many years ago there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed. Two weavers (the swindlers) offer to create a special set of clothes for the emperor. They tell the emperor and his followers that the clothes are invisible to people who are too stupid for their jobs. No one can see the clothing, but no one wants to admit this fact because they do not want to be identified as foolish.

“I’d like to know how those weavers are getting on with the cloth,” the Emperor thought after a while, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfit for their position would not be able to see the fabric. So he sends in his most trusted men to verify the progress of the weavers. None of them can see the clothes, but none did say so.

Well we all know how the story ends.  The little boy said at last, “but he has nothing on at all”.

So how does this work in our software world? First of all, remember that software (and progress) can be invisible like the clothes of the emperor. The development team can use all kinds of excuses. We can’t (will) show you the software right now because;

  • We haven’t integrated the latest module yet.
  • We haven’t tested the software yet, and don’t want you to run into all kinds of bugs.
  • We have no data in the system. This is planned for next week/month/year.
  • We are currently understaffed due to <some excuse>.
  • The configuration isn’t up to date in the test environment.
  • That’s normal in a <huge amount> dollar project.
  • We never show the software to our clients until the promised release date.

This can happen. Perhaps in the early stage of a software development project. Time flies. Now you have send your most trusted men to verify progress. Are you sure they return with the truth?

When do you need a little boy to reveal the truth about your project? (Will you even recognize the little boy?)