Big, Bang, Boom Revisited: Excerpt


It was 7:30 AM on Tuesday, July 17, 2018, Sally Brown, was having a cup of coffee and watching “Morning Joe.” Suddenly she felt severe pain in her shoulders, neck, and jaw and a deep tightness in her chest. She picked up the phone to call Massachusetts General Hospital but the call couldn’t get through.

Later after Sally gasped for her last breath, “Morning Joe’s” Mika Brzezinski announced some breaking news: a key element of the US telephone system had crashed. Thousands of consumers could not receive calls. Brzezinski went on to say that the FCC and FBI were investigating the cause, but that it might be several hours or even days before the telephone system would be back to normal. Speculation on the show went into a frenzy, Was it the Russians? The Chinese? A disaffected hacker with a thirst for vengeance?

Later Sally’s family would learn the reason she could not get life-saving help during her heart attack was a cascading database error in the Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC) system and database, which recently underwent a transition between operators. The Brown family is looking at their legal options.

This tale is fictional—but it is a possibility, however remote. Consider this, though: That possibility becomes less remote when soft- ware inspection and data profiling is cut short. 

We all live with software bugs and bad data. Our TV systems freeze; our alarm services go off for no reason. PC disks crash, tablets stop working, and cell phones go up in flames. There is no such thing as the perfect soft- ware, database, or system—but when the application is mission-critical, comprehensive software inspection and serious database pro- filing efforts are imperative.

The NPAC system is one of those applications. It is a platform which contains the authoritative routing instructions for 750 million U.S. telephone numbers, and is updated over a million times every day when consumers and businesses change telephone companies, new telephone numbers are added, and service provider networks are updated. The Standish Group estimates that implementing a new sys- tem the size and scope of the new NPAC system and database will create 230,000 original defects. The chart below shows how these defects can be found and corrected by comprehensive quality control method.

To read the full Big, Bang, Boom Revisited: Why Large Projects Fail, A case study research of NPAC report go to:

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Subject Matter

General Interest

About the Author:


Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson is a professor at the Antwerp Management School and the founder and chairman of The Standish Group. He has been professionally involved in the computer industry for over 40 years and has a long list of published books, papers, articles and speeches. He has a combination of technical, marketing, and research achievements focused on mission-critical applications and technology. He is best known for his research on project performance and early recognizing technology trends. Jim is a pioneer of modern research techniques and continues to advance in the research industry through case-based analytical technology.

Hans Mulder Hans Mulder MSc BA is Standish European research director and professor at the Antwerp Management School. As the founder of his own company, Venture Informatisering Adviesgroep, he is on the management and executive boards of various IT companies. He is regularly engaged as an IT expert when conflicts between companies need to be resolved in or out of court.

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