December 30, 2004

How to hang a picture (or how to manage jr programmers) or taken one step further... How to gather project requirements.

Check out this pointedly prolific prose from The Spurious Pundit (via a post on Scott Hanselman's Blog - ComputerZen.com)

Picture Hanging

In it, the author describes how new managers can get into trouble by giving junior developers what they think are “simple” tasks without all the information they may need.

I remember by first couple of tours of being a first level manager and the story is right on the money.  I thought that once I left the Army and started dealing with intelligent people* that I wouldn't have to explain everything step-by-step.  Unfortunately for me (and for some of the people under my tutelage) that is not true.  Better communication is always a benefit!  My wife and I ran into this type of scenario tonight while making dinner.  She said “There is an onion in there to dice up” while pointing to one corner or our kitchen.  This corner she was pointing to houses our refrigerator and our pantry closet.  I assumed she was talking about the pantry and started digging around.  After finding nothing, I told her there was no such thing in there in a slightly perturbed voice, feeling I'd been led on a wild goose-chase.  She said “No, in the refrigerator” in a more perturbed voice. I asked if it was “sliced”.  She said no.  I went to the refrigerator and only found half of an onion (it had technically been sliced).  I told her with an even more perturbed tone that I couldn't find an onion in the refrigerator - the only one I found was this one  that had already been sliced (showing her the ziploc bag with half an onion).  “You're retarded!” was the response I got.

Anyway, as I was reading the article I transferred a lot of what was being said to requirements gathering for a web-based project.  They have many of the same issues.  The client tells the salesperson “I want you to hang a picture.”  The salesperson tells the development team “They want a picture hung“.  The developers say to themselves cool, we've done that before, all that is required is a hammer, a nail, and possibly a tape measure and then a picture from the client; that should only take about X hours of time; the price will be $X dollars. They tell the salesperson who puts together a quote and delivers it to the client, who is pleased with the dollar amount and accepts the work and everyone is happy... for a while.  The developers hang a picture and then tells the client, “Hey look we're done - isn't that awesome?”  The client says, “Well that is nice, but ... we actually wanted this other picture hung and it needs to be built into the wall and it needs to have a glass case around it with a well built security system and possibly even armed guards”.  Sound like a familiar scenario?  It sounds all too familiar to me.

I am making a New Year's resolution that I will do a better job at requirements gathering with all projects that I am involved in.

* I am not insinuating that all people in the Army are unintelligent.  In fact, one of the smartest guys I ever met was a colleague stationed in Germany with me.  He was 3/4 of his way through an Aeronautical Engineering degree at a college in Tennessee when his scholarships were cut because they diverted money from academic scholarships to athletic scholarships.  He couldn't afford tuition on his own and he didn't want to put his mother or himself into deep dept via educational loans.  He took a four year side-trip through the Army for the Army College Fund and other educational incentives.

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