Edward Lorenz (1917 – 2008)

Edward Lorenz has died on the 16th of April. Many of you probably don’t know whom I’m talking about, so I will explain.

Lorenz is the man behind chaos theory (in the 80’s), which has later (in the 90’s) transformed itself into complexity theory. He is the one who coined the term The Butterfly Effect. This entails the idea that a global network of terrorist butterflies might be able to trigger tornados in the USA, just by flapping their wings. (It doesn’t matter which book on chaos theory you read, and where the butterflies are, for some reason the tornados always end up in the USA.) The Butterfly Effect explains why little things can have a huge impact in a complex system. For example, adding one "small" requirement to a project can sometimes inexplicably have a tremendous impact on the scope and the deadline.

He also discovered strange attractors. This is about the fact that many complex dynamic systems, whatever their initial configuration, have a tendency to end up in only a few stable states. For example, strange attractors have been used to explain why there are only a limited number of basic forms of organisms in biology. (You don’t often see species with five feet sticking out of their heads.) Strange attractors may also explain why there are only a few patterns of successful software projects lifecycles.

I think chaos and complexity theory are essential in understanding the complexity of software projects. And that’s why the death of Edward Lorenz is worth mentioning on this blog. I’m sure you don’t mind.

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