Computingfailure.com: War Stories from the Electronic Revolution

Overview

"Looking back, it was a time of madness: an era when billions of dollars - and even more faith - was placed in dotcom startups with inexperienced management and "Swiss cheese" business plans. Robert Glass's ComputingFailure.com is a powerful chronicle of those years, and something more: a cautionary "worst practices" guide for every entrepreneur and e-Business professional." "Glass carefully chooses his case studies for the insights they impart. The executives quoted and profiled in this book have learned hard, expensive lessons - about building
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Overview

"Looking back, it was a time of madness: an era when billions of dollars - and even more faith - was placed in dotcom startups with inexperienced management and "Swiss cheese" business plans. Robert Glass's ComputingFailure.com is a powerful chronicle of those years, and something more: a cautionary "worst practices" guide for every entrepreneur and e-Business professional." "Glass carefully chooses his case studies for the insights they impart. The executives quoted and profiled in this book have learned hard, expensive lessons - about building compelling business models, about building compelling business models, about managing growth, and about when to ignore the venture capitalists. They've learned surprising lessons about integrating with bricks-and-mortar parent companies and about what it takes to get marketing, tech, and everyone else on the same page."--BOOK JACKET.
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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
Robert Glass has carved out one heck of a niche for himself: master of disaster. Through his columns in ACM Communications Magazine, and his 20 books (notably Software Runaways and Computing Calamities), he's become the IT industry's go-to guy on why software projects fail -- and what can be learned from those failures.

Of late, in the wake of the dotcom collapse, he's got plenty of new material to work from. Hence, ComputingFailure.com, a book that brings together the practical lessons of 40 new software and technology industry failures.

The book is an anthology of the best, most thoughtful news coverage on these failures, with commentary added by Glass himself. It goes well beyond the borders of the Web, including "traditional" failures in both the private and public sector. And it goes well beyond failures of technology. In fact, if these failures have anything in common, it's a failure (or, on occasion, pure venality) of all-too-human management.

Some of these case studies are as high profile as they come in the late, lamented "new economy." There's Pets.com, which couldn't even be saved by its sock puppet (worth remembering next time someone tells you branding is everything). Why did it fail? A fouled-up cost model that could've only worked with enormous volumes -- and not enough capital to ever reach those volumes.

There's Boo.com, whose incomprehensible site -- and utter lack of financial controls -- managed to burn through $135 million in practically no time. (Much of it spent redesigning its animated character, Miss Boo and running up the tab at New York's Soho Grand and other swanky joints.) There's even Netscape, which survives as a hollowed-out shell within the corporate megatitan now known as AOL Time Warner.

Not all the interesting dotcom failures made headlines. There's ePatients, which sought to build a global patient-to-patient support network, but instead fell victim to classic misunderstandings and disputes between its cofounders, venture capitalists, consultants, and CEO. Or, MetaFinancial (too much technology, not enough business development skills). Or Dressmart, another European clothing e-tailer that managed to avoid Boo.com's exceses, but still fell victim to the "expand fast at all costs to achieve first-mover advantage" philosophy which killed so many dotcoms.

Of course, technology failures aren't limited to the dotcom space -- far from it. There's InaCom, once one of the world's leading PC distributors, yet utterly incapable of adjusting to the dramatic changes in the PC business wrought by Dell and other direct sellers. There's the large Blue Cross licensee that wound up scrapping a gigantic investment in a new claims payment system that just wouldn't work (key lessons: "Don't assign anyone to more than one major undertaking at a time. Don't let a doomed project run on -- admit it's failed and announce the failure.")

There's Hershey Foods' disastrous new automated delivery system, which couldn't get candy to stores in time for Halloween. And there's Virginia's disastrous ERP implementation (to quote Enterprise Development: "The real way to implement a commercial ERP system like PeopleSoft successfully is to use the vanilla system pretty much as is, changing the business rules to match the software. Not so easy when some of those business rules are also state laws.")

The reasons for failure are legion: inadequate attention to development processes; constant changes in specs; failure to gain commitment from upper management; inadequate infrastructure; the wrong tools; and many others. For all these, however Glass turns out -- amazingly -- to be an optimist. "In our day-to-day lives," he says, "perhaps to some extent unbeknownst to us all, software is doing its thing -- and our things -- in a hugely successful way." Yes, it's possible to do software (or even dotcoms) right. It's a lot more likely if you know what to watch out for. And when it comes to that, there's no better guidebook.(Bill Camarda)

--Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer with nearly 20 years' experience in helping technology companies deploy and market advanced products and services. He served for nearly ten years as vice president of a New Jersey-based marketing company, where he supervised a wide range of graphics and web design projects. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780130917393
  • Publisher: Pearson Education
  • Publication date: 4/7/2001
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Read an Excerpt

PREFACE:

Foreword

by Tom DeMarco

I know this sounds weird, but success in our business is inextricably tied up with failure. The days of achieving anything important without risk-taking are over forever. Today you need to positively flirt with failure in order to achieve meaningful success. The projects that are really worth doing lie at the hairy, scary edge of feasibility. Your intimate understanding of the potential failures that may await you is surely your most potent weapon for avoiding them. You need to become an expert on failure.

But focusing on failure is something that goes against the grain. Our cultures guide us to think only of success, to concentrate on winning, not losing. That all sounds good, sounds positive. The Plan For Success mentality sounds great, but it makes risk management almost impossible. And risk management is your most effective tool in a risk-intensive world. To do real risk management, you have to develop a deep understanding of the factors that have undone those who have gone before you, understand how these factors acted and what measures proved insufficient to contain them. If such factors proved fatal to your predecessors, they may prove equally fatal to you.

Maybe you're willing to accept this idea with no more said, but (never a master of understatement) I have chosen to hammer it home anyway with a grisly word-picture: If you find yourself proceeding over a battlefield that is littered with fresh corpses and you don't know what killed them, you are in trouble. You better be thinking furiously, What did they learn at the end that I may still have to learn in the near future?

This is exactly thesituation most software project managers find themselves in. They need to learn quickly about failure. Of course, the classic way to learn about failure is to make all the mistakes yourself and guide different projects to a great selection of awful conclusions. If you had already done that, you would now be a relative expert on the failures that characterize these projects. Your reputation would be in the dumpster, but your understanding of risks would be excellent. However, the cost you would have paid for the experience is too high. The trick is to gain a useful understanding of project failure mechanisms without actually failing yourself.

That's where Bob Glass's long and careful study of project failure mechanisms comes in. Over the past decade, Bob has been a keen observer of our industry and has turned his particular attention to the patterns that characterize failed endeavors. In ComputingFailure.com, he sets out for you a series of failure scenarios anchored in real and recent fact. Read them and profit from them. It is your understanding of these past scenarios that can help you build a future scenario for your project that has a chance of leading to success.

Tom DeMarco
The Atlantic Systems Guild
Camden, Maine

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Ch. 1 Introduction 1
Ch. 2 Overview 9
Ch. 3 Who Put the Duh in Dot-Com? 31
Angels of Death: Reality Bites Hard as String of Dot-Coms See Funding Dry Up
Startup Meltdown (Epatients)
An American Dream Gone Bad (Value America)
Pets.com's Demise
The End of the Line (Audiocafe)
Back in the Saddle (MetaFinancial)
In Floundering Swedish Dot-Com, a Cautionary Tale (Dressmart)
Edfex Misses a Meal or Two
Atomic Pop's Final Encore
Pop.Com Goes Poof
Broken Wing (WingspanBank)
Apocryphal Note Regarding Wingspan
Why Pandesic Didn't Pan Out
After a Life at Warp Speed, Netscape Logs Off
CEO: Partnership Hurt Toysmart
Interval: the Think Tank that Tanked
The Foreclosure at Mortgage.com
Dot-Com Liquidator
Ch. 4 Don't Forget the Dot-People in Dot-Com 111
The Great Internet CON (David Stanley / Michael Fenne, Pixelon)
Hidden Past Sheds Light on Ex-IQuest Chief's Odd Ways (John Paul Aleshe / Robert Hoquim)
The Life and Near-Death of Drkoop.com (C. Everett Koop)
Spooked: Money Men Liked BOO and BOO Liked Money; Then it All Went Poof
Anatomy of a Crash: From an Awkward Kid to a Star of Software to a Body in a Hotel (Phillip W. Katz)
And Now the Big Bankruptcy (Robert McNulty, TheBigStore)
What Price Glory? Personal Tales of the Dot-Com Trenches
What Goes Up ... For Some Executives, the Internet Dream Has a Steep Downside
Ch. 5 Just Because It's the Dot-Com Era Doesn't Mean That There Aren't Other (Bad) Computing Failure Stories 187
Failure From the Top
Adios, Amiga
Breakthrough or Snake Oil? (Transmeta)
Computer Crash (InaCom)
Failure at the Bottom
To Hell and Back
Another Trip to Hell
Her Majesty's Flying I.T. Circus
Lost in Chaos: Chronology of a Failure
County Blew $38 Million: Here's What Went Wrong
Double Jeopardy (Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust)
Virginia Team Stops "Giant Sucking Sound With Web"
Ch. 6 Viruses: Failure With a Cause 265
'Love Bug' Case Against Student Gets Dismissed as Laws Lag
Cradle of Love (the Love Bug virus)
Ch. 7 Conclusions and Wrap-up 275
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Change Their Titles
About the Author 281
Sources 283
Index 285
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Preface

PREFACE:

Foreword

by Tom DeMarco

I know this sounds weird, but success in our business is inextricably tied up with failure. The days of achieving anything important without risk-taking are over forever. Today you need to positively flirt with failure in order to achieve meaningful success. The projects that are really worth doing lie at the hairy, scary edge of feasibility. Your intimate understanding of the potential failures that may await you is surely your most potent weapon for avoiding them. You need to become an expert on failure.

But focusing on failure is something that goes against the grain. Our cultures guide us to think only of success, to concentrate on winning, not losing. That all sounds good, sounds positive. The Plan For Success mentality sounds great, but it makes risk management almost impossible. And risk management is your most effective tool in a risk-intensive world. To do real risk management, you have to develop a deep understanding of the factors that have undone those who have gone before you, understand how these factors acted and what measures proved insufficient to contain them. If such factors proved fatal to your predecessors, they may prove equally fatal to you.

Maybe you're willing to accept this idea with no more said, but (never a master of understatement) I have chosen to hammer it home anyway with a grisly word-picture: If you find yourself proceeding over a battlefield that is littered with fresh corpses and you don't know what killed them, you are in trouble. You better be thinking furiously, What did they learn at the end that I may still have to learn in the near future?

This is exactlythesituation most software project managers find themselves in. They need to learn quickly about failure. Of course, the classic way to learn about failure is to make all the mistakes yourself and guide different projects to a great selection of awful conclusions. If you had already done that, you would now be a relative expert on the failures that characterize these projects. Your reputation would be in the dumpster, but your understanding of risks would be excellent. However, the cost you would have paid for the experience is too high. The trick is to gain a useful understanding of project failure mechanisms without actually failing yourself.

That's where Bob Glass's long and careful study of project failure mechanisms comes in. Over the past decade, Bob has been a keen observer of our industry and has turned his particular attention to the patterns that characterize failed endeavors. In ComputingFailure.com, he sets out for you a series of failure scenarios anchored in real and recent fact. Read them and profit from them. It is your understanding of these past scenarios that can help you build a future scenario for your project that has a chance of leading to success.

Tom DeMarco
The Atlantic Systems Guild
Camden, Maine

Read More Show Less

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