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Is the Second System the most dangerous system a man ever designs?


‘As he designs the first work, frill after frill and embellishment after embellishment occur to him. These get stored away to be used next time. Sooner or later the first system is finished, and the architect, with firm confidence and a demonstrated mastery of that class of system, is ready to build a second system.

This second system is the most dangerous system a man ever designs… The general tendency is to over design the second system, using all the ideas and frills that were cautiously side-tracked on the first one’.

The Mythical Man-Month, Frederick P Brooks, Jr


When we deliver projects we need to recognise that not everyone is an experienced, seasoned professional. At times one or more novices will join the project team. These individuals are likely to have worked on a project, seen some lessons learned and identified improvements that can be made. They are passionate, want to ensure that none of the mistakes previously made will occur again, and all their ideas are incorporated. It is also as likely that the project team will include experienced project professionals, those who have worked on a number of projects and recognise the dangers of over-design.

Whatever their background, we need to choose a relevant implementation methodology. This will have a material impact on how we solve the design challenge, in ensuring that the end result meets the business and user’s needs. For example:

  • Do we follow the traditional waterfall method of analysis, prepare a design document that is signed off and then build the system?
  • Or should we develop a prototype that captures the essence of the perceived requirement, have a structured walkthrough with worked business scenarios and from the feedback then move to software configuration?
  • How about an Agile approach, where we develop a list of functional requirements, prioritise these, develop in priority order in subsets, with peer review and the end of each build, and limit the time and cost, with the variable being functionality?

At Touchstone Energy we understand that there is no silver bullet methodology. In looking at the investment objectives, project scope, organisation culture, day to day working, software solution requirements, people, and logistical complexities to name but a few, all affect how we should structure the project.

During project initiation to agree this structure, the project plans, quality management strategy, resourcing, design reviews and so forth. So when we are tracking progress, there is confidence that the end result will meet the business needs, and deliver on the investment objectives.


John Chapman, Programme Director



The Mythical Man-Month, Frederick P Brooks, JR, ISBN-10: 0-201-83595-9, page 54

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