For my first blog entry, I have decided to list some of the facts of life that I have learned over the years. Please note that the examples are from several different companies.
- When people say that something is good enough, it almost never is. – There was a program used by the project management group to track compliance with schedules. Unfortunately, the printout required two weeks of manipulation by a secretary before the project managers could use it. The response of the IT group was “Do they really have a problem with data that’s two weeks old”. After two weeks, it was too late to fix the problems, so they really did have a problem with two week old data. If you’re going to say it’s good enough, you should be able to explain why it’s good enough.
- When people say don’t worry, that is the time to worry. — When you ask for a status of a project, the most common expression seems to be “don’t worry”. I heard that a lot in 1999, and a lot of the software failed when tested for software compliance. People frequently say don’t worry because they can’t think of a good reason not to worry.
- Instead of looking for solutions, look for the tools to build the solution. — I remember an article in a computer magazine where they had a problem with a server room. They wanted to stop people from using it as an unauthorized smoking lounge but still allow access for emergency maintenance of the servers. The article stated that this was a serious problem and that they were unable to find a solution. There is a very common solution to this problem, that can be found on doors at most restaurants, the ones marked “Opening door will trigger alarm”. Try to reword your problem in more general terms, and you may find the tools you need.
- The only constant is change. – Some people will say that you don’t have to worry about requirements changing. Change is something that must be managed, but better planning will help to reduce the number of critical changes occurring late in the design cycle.
- Sometimes the solution is very easy. – I was working on a government contract back in the days when UTP (unshielded twisted pair) ethernet cable was starting to replace coaxial cable. A government representative wanted assurances that the computer cables wouldn’t be plugged into the telephone network. Management simply said that they would be careful, but the government rep wanted an operating procedure that could be verified. I met the government rep on another task, and told him that the computer cables (8 pin) wouldn’t fit in the telephone jacks (4 and 6 pins). He said he would sign off on the project that afternoon. We had lost two weeks by pushing back on a task that should only have taken an hour.
- It may not be possible to give people what they ask for, but it may be possible to give them what they want. – I was dealing with a manager that wanted a fax machine that was four times as fast. I pointed out that the speed was set by the standards defining facsimile transmission, but I could put four or five machines on the same telephone number so that they could get five times the throughput. (In standard Dilbert fashion, I was informed that I had a lousy attitude, and should just order what he asked for.)
- Some things are really impossible. – I know of one contract that required the construction of a database to display logistics data, but none of the vendors had a requirement to collect the data or give it to us. The response of management was that they would work around it. That contract didn’t go well. One of the higher managers said that he didn’t like to work with experienced personnel, because they kept telling him that things wouldn’t work.