When Did “fill in the blank” Start?

On mailing lists, when I speak, in email, people ask, “When did ‘some principle, approach, or whatever’ start?”

A long time ago.

Timeboxes have been around forever. I’m pretty sure that when the Pharoahs told their architects to build a pyramid, they said, “And do it by this-date! Or else!” I know that military projects used timeboxes. We used them in the mid-70′s and I heard that they were used when my managers were young engineers.

Inch-pebbles were first defined by some Air Force guy in the 40′s. (That’s the first published date that I know of.) The Software Program Manager’s Network (and I!) publicized the concept more in the 80′s and 90′s.

Non-waterfall lifecycles, such as iterative and incremental have been used for years. Any of those projects where you had to show a demo partway through the project was either an iterative or incremental lifecycle. The projects I worked on in the 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s had feature-based teams where we had to finish our features and integrate and test as we proceeded.

What’s different about projects now is this: the easy work is done. Waterfall only works on shorter, smaller, and not-too-complex projects. You can make it work on longer, bigger, and complex projects–it’s really hard to do so, but you can. Now, if us mortal folks are faced with a longer, large, and more difficult project, it makes sense to use the tools (including the lifecycle that fits the context best) to make the project work.

I don’t understand why anyone wants to know when some practice or approach started. Assume it was a long time ago. (I used continuous integration at university, because there was no other way to know if what I was writing was any good. I first paired in 1982. Kicking and screaming, but I did pair. I first used version control in 1976 when I worked with another developer.)

Does it really matter when a practice started?

The real question is this: Is this approach or practice a good idea for my project? That’s a useful question. Ask it.

About Johanna Rothman

I help managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.
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11 Responses to When Did “fill in the blank” Start?

  1. 3 eyed genius says:

    Oh, I thot you actually meant: when did they start creating forms with blanks to fill in.

    It might have been clearer if you used X. Such as “when did X start”? Of course today, it should be *.

    As in … oh never mind… :D

  2. Phil Ruse says:

    History matters. If an approach has a history of working I’d say that matters. Showing that the approaches we use today are in some ways, as you yourself have demonstrated, evolved from approaches of the past, matters.

    And hey, even if it doesn’t, surely it’s interesting?!

  3. Marjie Carmen says:

    Kind of begs the question, we did things in the 80′s (when I started) that simply made sense. People reviewed each others code, people paired up to work on hard sections of software, development and testing was done by function vs. big bang (at least in my experiences until 1998) and we didn’t call it anything special except.. ummm.. gee nothing really.. today I refer to it as common sense.. I like to look back and say, gee we had to write how many books and papers and have how many conferences to do what used to happen so naturally.. What HAS changed in the last 25 years… we seem more aware but I wonder, when did we lose the awareness… hmmmm….

  4. When Waterfall was proposed, it had feedback at each level.

    When time boxing is used now, it means short phases, but I mean a week, maybe two, NOT six or thirteen. Short cycles are the only way to confront the reality of our estimates of the duration of work to be done often enough to get good at those predictions of the future.

  5. Interesting. When did you start thinking about writing this post? [joke]

  6. james ward says:

    Well, if I’ve never heard of a tool or technique, I might want some history about it. Maybe that’s what people are really asking. Saying that something started a long time ago does not necessarily establish its efficacy. Providing empirical evidence would be preferable.

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  8. Mark Waite says:

    I like one of the concepts James Bach notes that he learned from Cem Kaner. He described it as “critique their best work”. I believe he mentioned it in the context of his past complaints about TQM as a methodology and how Cem advised him that he was critiquing consultants poor implementations of the idea, instead of critiquing the original idea.

    Likewise, the original document which describes waterfall development also seemed to make an argument that iterative methods were generally preferred. Knowing the origin of a thing can sometimes allow us to evaluate it more honestly than trying to evaluate other’s interpretation of it.

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