What could this be?

There's a kind of psychological tool called a "projective test" in which the subject is exposed to a deliberately ambigious stimulus, asked a question like what could this be? and then their response to it is very carefully studied. The belief (largely discredited) being that the subject will read into the stimulus all sorts of revealing stuff about their inner tensions, repressed fears and so forth.

Just recently, a sort of projective test for programmers was executed via reddit. This old thing was the ambiguous stimulus, and the response revealed a lot about the inner tensions of the programming community--or the reddit-editing part of it, anyway.

It seems to me that no-one in Rickert's story comes away from looking like a hero, not Charles, not Alan and definitely not their managers. Although all for different reasons. This modulo the fact that both Alan and Charles delivered (that's how you can tell it's a work of fiction). It might make for an interesting interview to put the story in front of a candidate (especially one for a role involving any project or line management) and have them discuss it. More interesting to me that some interview techniques, anyway.

So, that was 1985. Twenty years later, where are we as regards discussion of process, its merits and demerits? Well, we nowadays get this sort of thing, and its aftermath.