Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More on project requirements - on Horn Group's Brass Tacks

The importance of gathering, defining and confirming project requirements, and the risks involved with making changes later in the project. Read more about it...here:

"If you don't have time to do it right, when do you have time to do it over?"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Learning Lessons in Requirements, in the Shopping Line...

I was at the Children's Place the other night, grabbing some new footed pajamas for my 2 year old, when I found an interesting parallel between clothes shopping and locking down the requirements in a project. I had just been working on requirements earlier that day, and trying to schedule a meeting with stakeholders to review and sign off on requirements. So, what can I say, I had requirements on my mind.

I knew exactly what I wanted when I got into the store, went right to the pajama rack, found the last remaining size 3T pajamas and went right to the line. Also waiting in line with me, were some stereotypical annoying shoppers. Right in front of me was the couple who had a whole bunch of clothes piled onto their stroller and the wife did more shopping while the husband waited in line. Maybe there's not anything technically wrong with this, but it's annoying and I wish I had the nerve to push myself in front of them. Then, at the register was a guy who was changing his mind last minute and ran back and forth to put stuff back and get something else. Those people are even more annoying! So, fortunately they called in more register workers and the line moved a little faster, but in the time I was waiting my thoughts drifted to requirements gathering and management and the challenges of making changes in the beginning, middle and end of a project.

So, the shoppers are project stakeholders, and the time they spend walking around the store looking for stuff is the discovery process. They are not sure what they want and need time to explore and figure it all out.

Then, when they get in line should be the moment that they identified project requirements and are ready to confirm. For those who need to swap something after they have gotten in line, while sortof annoying...it won't slow things down drastically. I would compare this to making a requirements change while in the design phase. It can complicate things, but probably won't bring the project to a halt (hopefully!).

Next, at the register is development and implementation, and any changes made at this point will definitely slow down the rest of the line, and cause significant delays in our parallel project.
I'm reminded of one of my favorite software development charts, from the good people at Contrux, the cost of defects graph:

This chart illustrates the cost of repairing a defect at the beginning, middle and end of a project. The point here is to find and repair early. So, similarly with requirements, make sure they are clarified and confirmed early and make sure all stakeholders understand exactly what they are getting and the cost involved with making changes later on in the project.

So, if you're a project stakeholder or a project manager and sense anything unclear with requirements, just imagine that long line of angry shoppers behind you, furious that you're slowing everything down for them. Pick the right sizes and colors and make sure you know exactly what you want, otherwise you risk reeking havoc on your project.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The importance of soft (serve) skills...

I debated posting this picture on the interwebs, I mean it's not something I would toss right up on Facebook or anything. I don't consider myself the most photogenic person, but this one is pretty embarrassing. But, I'm going to do it, will make this big sacrifice for my blog. That's how much you mean to me... blog.

Anyway, what's the picture all about anyway? This picture was taken in the summer of 1999 at the overnight camp that I worked at in northern Wisconsin. I was a division leader for the 16 year old group, so I directed a staff of about 10 adults and around 65 16 year olds. The kids put on a play every summer, and the night of the play after everything is over the kids get an ice cream party. Along with this tradition, comes the custom of having an ice cream fight in the dining hall where the ice cream party is held. It's probably the thing the kids look forward to most, they are so wired from the play that the ice cream fight is an excellent way to release some energy. But, of course the camp director and some of the other higher-ups would prefer that this not happen. And, as a member of the staff I should follow the camp directors wishes and make sure this doesn't happen. Well, as you can see by the picture, I didn't. And, this is the one picture from my 6 years working at that camp that I keep in a frame on my dresser and probably look at every morning.

Why is this picture so significant? It reminds me of the importance of moderation in all things, of having structure and holding to the rules when it's critical to do so, but also making sure to have fun and enjoy the moment when it's meant to be enjoyed. I remember thinking about whether I should let the kids have the ice cream fight and how long I should let it go, and then how I should end things and make sure they clean up, etc. I remember times when the fight got shut down immediately and the kids yelled at, and this only made the kids want to get into more trouble, which they did later that night. So, I discreetly got the word out to some of the kids earlier in the day that I was going to let them have their ice cream fight for a little while, and then shut it down when I thought it was the appropriate time. I told them that I wanted them to be responsible about it and be good about cleaning up and not doing anything crazy around the camp that night. I think they appreciate that I trusted them and had respect for what they wanted. So, the evening went pretty well, the fight went for a few minutes (sounds likes short time, but when you have chocolate syrup in your hair, its plenty of time!) and then I stopped it. The kids were great about cleaning up, and the rest of the night was quiet.

I'd like to think that this decision gave me nice brownie points with these kids, and it was important for me to win their respect. In situations I've worked in, it's important for me to feel trusted and respected, so I want to make sure to return that to those who I'm working with. I could never understand why people would use their position as division leader (or project manager) as a way to pull a power trip and talk down to and show little respect to their group. Just seems counterproductive, and then you don't get to have ice cream dripping down your shirt and a room full of very happy 16 year olds.

Funny, through and after college so many people I know went off to do very impressive sounding summer internships, and I spent 6 summers as a leader of kids and adults at an overnight camp in Wisconsin. This was probably the best soft skills training I could have had, and the ice cream incident is just one example of why.