Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Art in Empathy


The continual empathy of your clients is a key component of analysis. A separate entity from your sponsor, the clients are the people who will directly wield your software. Sometimes these folks overlap with the people who paid for the development and sometimes they don’t. Regardless you would do well to heed your clients’ desires as in the long run the clients keep you employed, rather than your sponsor.

This may strike a slightly odd chord, but it is akin to pointing out that you are more accountable for keeping your car running than the bank that lent you the money. All the bank cares about is that their loan is paid back with interest. But you will be the person driving your car and how you care for it and drive it determines how long the car will last. Similarly how well your project meets the needs of your clients will determine how long your software stays useful, even though your sponsor is providing the financing.

Amazingly enough the client enjoys relating their desires to someone who expresses a genuine interest in their needs and their working environment. You should try to discover what keeps the client awake at night: what are his worries. Nothing pleases a client like a designer who knows his workday life in detail, his daily routines, and what he faces in the way of competition and challenges in his office.

Analyze the big picture, not just the snapshot relevant to what you perceive as the scope of your project. Anticipate what the client wants: don’t wait for them to ask. Finally in those instances where you’ve identified a can of worms without a ready solution, consider what alternatives are available to monitor, mitigate, or manage the issue.

Interviewing for requirements seems simple enough, yet actually listening to a client discuss his desires takes a considerable amount of insight. You need to understand the sociology of his office and the things he wishes he had but doesn’t know how to ask for. Many times an employee is shy to relate his frustrations after finding that doing so in the past only set him apart as a complainer. You need to commiserate with him (without being smarmy or condescending) and then step back and independently think of ways to improve his working life.

Design extends beyond its up-front activity: once you’ve installed the initial version of your software you need to revisit the client to assess the full impact of your creation on his daily activities. The artistic thing to do is to create a system that your client appreciates long after you are gone. Continued empathy is the key for doing so.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Artful Hacks


Some I.T. personnel are as far apart as the East is from the West. Three metrics separate the developers from the management:

+ Easy to use
+ Fast
+ Proprietary

You see from management's perspective, software and file formats should be fast, easy to use, and universally available. In this way the company avoids being locked in to knowledge experts or particular vendors.

The developer however actually prefers the opposite: software and file formats that are cumbersome, resource intensive, and proprietary. In this way he can become an expert and increase his value to his employer.

So with both sides pulling in opposite directions what actually gets developed, what can possibly morph into physical being? Somewhere amidst the massive amounts of energy used in the politics and positioning of the two sides something springs up in-between.

Irrespective of the methodology employed or the layers of middle management helping to assuage differences, software developed in a corporate environment ends up partially complicated in the more obscure parts, just fast enough to get the job done, and reliant upon one or two inside hacks. It can be no other way.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Artful Commitment


People arrive at the ocean of project management from various rivulets of experience. Some have navigated programming or quality assurance while others set out with a business management education. Regardless of how you get there, once you have responsibility for overseeing the movement of creative team processes you find yourself in the delicate position of asking people to do things.

To a certain extent folks enjoy being challenged and pushed. They dislike, however, being stressed and overworked. The trick is to find the sweet spot where you commit them to the fair amount of pressure. At the same time folks have their own personal quirks and either tend to over-commit themselves or alternatively play up the amount of time that they are being productive when they are actually socializing instead.

It’s sort of management science: if you don’t assign the work then who is going to do it? Obviously you want to show some efficiency in completing the workload, but you also want to maintain good morale. This engages several competing foci and proves to be a riveting point in project management.

And I mean riveting in the sense of steel beam construction: the rivets only go through the steel in strategic locations, and for good reason. A rivet in the wrong place — too close to other rivets or adjacent to a concentration of shear — will weaken rather than strengthen a structure.

It’s your job when you are managing a project to rivet the team together to make sure that all of the pieces, players, and components are carrying their load under equal stress.