During the 1930's, the University of Colorado physicist George
Gamow began writing a series of short stories about a certain Mr. Tompkins, a
middle-aged bank clerk. Mr. Tompkins, the stories related, was interested in modern
science. He would trundle off to evening lectures put on by a local university
physics professor, and inevitably fall asleep partway through. When he awoke,
he would find himself in some alternate universe where one or another of the basic
physical constants was strikingly changed.
In one of these stories, for
example, Mr. T. awoke in a universe where the speed of light was only fifteen
miles per hour. That meant he could observe relativistic effects on his bicycle:
The city blocks became shorter in the direction of travel as he accelerated, and
time on the post office clock slowed down. In another story, Mr. Tompkins visited
a world where Planck's Constant was 1.0, and there he could see quantum mechanics
in action on a billiard table: The billiard balls refused to move smoothly across
the table, but took up quantum positions in probabilistic fashion.
I first came across the Gamow stories, I was just a teenager. Like Mr. Tompkins,
I too had an interest in modern science. I had already read numerous descriptions
of relativity and quantum mechanics, but it was only when I read Mr. Tompkins
in Wonderland that I began to develop a visceral sense of what these matters
were all about.
I have always admired Gamow's ingenious pedagogical device.
It occurred to me that a similar device might be used to demonstrate some of the
principles of project management. All I'd have to do is portray a veteran project
manager sent off to some Wonderland where various of the rules governing project
work could be instructively altered. Thus was born, with apologies to George Gamow,
the idea of The Deadline, the story of a manager named Tompkins and his
remarkable experiences running software projects in the ex-Soviet Republic of