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Einstein’s Special Relativity and Software Projects

In 1905, Albert Einstein published a paper revealing his theory of Special Relativity to the world. The theory says that not only do mass and energy have an equivalence (an idea that was not new) but that they have a specific equivalence expressed in the equation E=mc2. That equation basically says that the faster you go, the more energy you need to continue to accelerate. The unfortunate consequence of this is that you can’t reach the speed of light because at that point, your mass would be infinite which is of course, impossible.


It occurred to me recently that this concept applies to more than just the cost of going acceleration. For example, the larger a company gets in terms of just about any way a company is measured (revenue, profit, employees, customers, etc.), the harder it is to continue growing at that same rate. It isn’t that big companies don’t grow, they of course do, but they don’t grow a lot compared to smaller companies. It’s not difficult to grow from $100,000 to $1 million in sales compared to growing from $1 million to $100 million.

This applies to projects as well. We know from the book “The Mythical Man Month” that when you add another engineer to a project, you don’t get another man month each month. Each engineer you add decreases the productivity of all the engineers because it increases the cost of communication. This holds true for predicting project schedules as well. The more bugs and features scheduled to be completed, the longer the schedule will be and the more difficult it becomes to accurately predict when the work will be completed. More variables means more unpredictability. It’s the reason that your local weather person can do a reasonably good job of predicting tomorrow’s weather but is not so good at predicting the weather for next month or next year.

So why is it that Special Relativity appears to explain things like revenue growth and software schedules? I submit to you that these things are simply measures of energy. Revenue is a measure of energy. Money after all is just a convenient way to exchange energy. Each of the bugs and features on the schedule of a software project will take someone’s energy to complete so they are also convertible to energy. The difference between applicability of Special Relatively to mass compared to things like company growth and software projects, is that the ratio with mass is mathematically consistent. The performance of companies and software projects is inconsistent because they are both dependent upon a lot of less than consistent biological variables. In other words, human beings.

Ernest Rutherford, a Noble Prize-winning physicist from New Zealand who is considered the father of nuclear physics once said, “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” What he meant of course is that ultimately, all science is physics. Perhaps science is not the only thing that is just physics.