My wife and I watched "What the Bleep do we know" Tuesday night. It was really interesting - a somewhat documentary with a story wrapped around it and a huge amount of special effects. Some of the conclusions were a little new-agey, but if you are a mature grown-up, I'm sure you can handle it.
Last night I watched the special features. Usually, I avoid them (the scenes that were cut were, it turns out, generally cut for a reason) - but I just wanted to hear more about the concepts.
One of the things that hit me was the budget. This was a movie originally budgeted at $250,000 as a documentary that ran to a total cost of $5 million.
That's two thousand percent over budget.
If it were a piece of software, according to the Chaos Report, it would be a failed project.
Yet wikipedia reads:
According to Publishers Weekly, the movie was one of the sleeper hits of 2004, as "word-of-mouth and strategic marketing kept it in theaters for an entire year." The article states that the gross exceeded $10 million, which is referred to as not bad for a low-budget documentary, and that the DVD release attained even more significant success with over a million units shipped in the first six months following its release in March 2005.
Keep in mind, 2005 was four years ago and only one year after theatrical release. Certainly, by now, the original investor has more than made his money back - mostly likely several multiples.
It's pretty hard to call that a "failure."
When we assess our failures in software development, it might be better if we looked at the overall outcome, instead of the initial budget.
Late projects don't mean the project failed - they mean that whoever did the up-front estimation probably failed at that singular task. Now, that is a bad thing, because the business made decisions based on unreasonable hope.
But it's not the only thing.
More Outliers to come.
(Hey, check it out, What the bleep is available for free on Google Video. I'd forgotten how cheesy the intro is. Man, you'll have to wade to at least the 5 minute point to get to the good stuff.)