Why Did the Tower of Babel Fail?
Why Did theTower of Babel Fail?
Now the whole earth used only one language, with few words. On the occasion of a migration from the east, men discovered a plain in the land of Shinar, and settled there. Then they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, burning them well. " So they used bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city with a tower whose top shall reach the heavens (thus making a name for ourselves), so that we may not be scattered all over the earth. " Then the Lord came down to look at the city and tower which human beings had built. The Lord said, "They are just one people, and they all have the same language. If this is what they can do as a beginning, then nothing that they resolve to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there make such a babble of their language that they wilt not understand one another's speech. " Thus the Lord dispersed them from there all over the earth, so that they had to stop building the city. GENESIS 11:1-8
P. Breughel, the Elder, "Turmbau zu Babel," 1563 Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Why Did The Tower of Babel Fail?
A Management Audit of the Babel Project According to the Genesis account, the tower of Babel was man's second major engineering undertaking, after Noah's ark. Babel was the first engineering fiasco. The story is deep and instructive on several levels. Let us, however, examine it purely as an engineering project, and see what management lessons can be learned. How well was their project equipped with the prerequisites for success? Did they have: 1. A clear mission? Yes, although naively impossible. The project failed long before it ran into this fundamental limitation. 2. Manpower? Plenty of it. 3. Materials? Clay and asphalt are abundant in Mesopotamia. 4. Enough time? Yes, there is no hint of any time constraint. 5. Adequate technology? Yes, the pyramidal or conical structure is inherently stable and spreads the compressive load well. Clearly masonry was well understood. The project failed before it hit technological limitations. Well, if they had all of these things, why did the project fail? Where did they lack? In two respects—communication, and its consequent, organization. They were unable to talk with each other; hence they could not coordinate. When coordination failed, work ground to a halt. Reading between the lines we gather that lack of communication led to disputes, bad feelings, and group jealousies. Shortly the clans began to move apart, preferring isolation to wrangling. Communication in the Large Programming Project So it is today. Schedule disaster, functional misfits, and system bugs all arise because the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. As work proceeds, the several teams slowly change the functions, sizes, and speeds of their own programs, and they explicitly or implicitly change their assumptions about the inputs available and the uses to be made of the outputs.
The Project Workbook
For example, the implementer of a program-overlaying function may run into problems and reduce speedr relying on statistics that show how rarely this function will arise in application programs. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, his neighbor may be designing a major part of the supervisor so that it critically depends upon the speed of this function. This change in speed itself becomes a major specification change, and it needs to be proclaimed abroad and weighed from a system point of view. How, then, shall teams communicate with one another? In as many ways as possible. • Informally. Good telephone service and a clear definition of intergroup dependencies will encourage the hundreds of calls upon which common interpretation of written documents depends. • Meetings. Regular project meetings, with one team after another giving technical briefings, are invaluable. Hundreds of minor...
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