Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Artistic Meta

With marching orders and a vague foggy vision of where you are headed, you are ready to create the Meta-Project. Not the project itself, the Meta-Project enwraps the actual project creating an environment for it to succeed. The Meta-Project is more of a thought process, something you keep to yourself, in your heart, to guide you to a successful completion. In an earlier post I described how to resolve the utility-cost-speed triad; this is the other half of the mental preparations required to launch a project.

To start you need to create the tone, the environment under which your project will proceed. Sometimes you will need to be methodical and professional, moving slowly with each step well-documented. You may need to get management reaffirmation and written approval all along the way. At other times you may need to create a blender, a whir of activity that juggles six balls at once. You may need to generate enough excitement that your coworkers get overwhelmed with enthusiasm and complete the project for you. I can not give you guidance as to the appropriate tone for you to succeed in your project -- you need to use your intuition, foresight, and knowledge of the culture at your company to determine what will work in your environment.

I usually find it helpful at this point to sketch out figures of my thoughts. One such drawing is a graph of "risk space" -- along one axis I label Risk, and along the other I label Volatility. I then draw circular regions that indicate representations of where each design option would land. Some projects are risky because they have a high probability of technical failure: this may be due to an increased complexity brought about by the interaction of multiple layers of software, or perhaps because the development language itself presents certain challenges of learning and implementation.

Some projects are risky for political reasons: they might for example shed light on why certain business units of a company are performing poorly, or the software may replace the functions of another system that already keeps several staff members gainfully employed. Some projects may be risky because the goals are ill-defined, or no single person has enough authority to assure completion, or the people in authority are themselves insecure and may not be around at the end of the project for support when you need them.

Volatility is intended as an estimation hedge. The risk for any one implementation may run from low to high: if all the factors are well known then the volatility should be low. On some projects you will get the gut feeling that you are in for a barrel of surprises however, where most of the problems will surface during development or after implementation. In this case the volatility is high. "Type 3" projects tend to be volatile, because you can expect to incorporate new technologies and deal with new staff as the project develops. Some small projects can be surprisingly volatile, not for anything inherent in the design process itself, but because of business uncertainty. If the corporation is undergoing severe changes, then smaller projects tend to get swept under the rugs and scrapped easily.

By preparing yourself thoroughly mentally before a project gets under way you will glide through all of the challenges that it presents.