Skip to main content

Doing Less to Get Things Done

Have you ever been in a situation where someone walks into the room and announces that they just got off the phone with a customer you need to add some functionality, described in very specific terms. As described the feature could take a lot of work, so you bounce around some ideas about how to do what the customer asked for. Along the way you realize that maybe, perhaps, there is another way that you can add a similar feature that meets the needs at much lower cost. But no one asked the customer what problem they wanted to solve. So what do you do now?

Some options are:
  1. Saying, sorry, we don't really know what the requirement is, so come back when you have more to say.
  2. Spend the next couple of hours discussing how to implement all of the options you think of, and planning how to get them done in detail
  3. List some options for what the customer might really mean, then delegate someone to fine out more, using your options as a basis for conversation.
Option 1 sounds appealing, but doesn't actually help you solve the problem of efficiently building (eventually) what the customer wants. While option 2 has you thinking about the problem and solutions, at some point you're making the solution more expensive than the customer probably wants it to be. This is an easy scenario to fall into since people, and engineers in particular want to solve problems. But a long conversation without data doesn't solve this problem and keeps you away from making progress on other problems that you know enough to solve.

Option third option is a good compromise. Spend some time discussing what problems the customer might want to solve focusing on the problem, not the solution (implementation). Then spend a few minutes figuring out how you might implement each proposed option so that you can attach a cost to each. Then delegate someone to have a follow up conversation with the customer using your options as a starting point. Three options is a good rule of thumb.

It's very easy to get caught up in solving problems without asking if you're solving the right problem. Whenever you're asked to to build something very specific, ask yourself if you really understand the problem. By taking a step back you can save time, and in the end have happier customers.

(For more on figuring out what the problem really is see the appropriately named book: Are Your Lights On?: How to Figure Out What the Problem Really Is)


Popular posts from this blog

Continuous Integration of Python Code with Unit Tests and Maven

My main development language is Java, but I also some work in Python for deployment and related tools. Being a big fan of unit testing I write unit tests in Python using PyUnit. Being a big fan of Maven and Continuous Integration, I really want the  Python unit tests to run as part of the build. I wanted to have a solution that met the following criteria:
Used commonly available pluginsKeep the maven structure of test and src files in the appropriate directories.Have the tests run in the test phase and fail the build when the tests fail.
The simplest approach I came up with to do this was to use the Exec Maven Plugin by adding the following configuration to your (python) project's POM.

<plugin> <groupId>org.codehaus.mojo</groupId> <artifactId>exec-maven-plugin</artifactId> <executions> <execution> <configuration> <executable>python</executable> <workingDirectory>src/test/python</workingDirect…

Displaying Build Numbers in Grails Apps

Being a fan of Continuous Delivery, identifiable builds, and Continuous Integration: I like to deploy web apps with a visible build number, or some other way of identifying the version. For example, having the build number on the login screen for example. In the Maven/Java world, this is straightforward. Or at least I know the idioms. I struggled with this a bit while working on a Grails app,  and wanted to share my solution. There may be other, better, solutions, but the ones I found approaches that didn't quite work they way that I'd hoped.

My requirements were:
To display a build number from my CI tool, where the number was passed in on the command line. In Bamboo, for example you might configure a grails build as
-Dbuild.number=${bamboo.buildNumber} warTo only change build artifacts and not any source files.To not misuse the app version, or change the names of any artifacts.To be simple and idiomatic.I realized that that Grails itself changes the application metadata (appl…

Motivation Visibility, and Unit Testing

I've always been interested in organizational patterns (such as those in Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development). I've recently found myself thinking a lot about motivation. I'm now reading Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and just finished Rob Austin's book on performance measurement. Being the parent of a three year old, I'm finding more and more that "because I said so, and I'm right" isn't too effective at home. My interests in motivation are closely related to my interest in writing software effectively. Writing software is partially a technical problem about frameworks, coding, and the like, but the harder (and perhaps more interesting) problem is how to get a group of people working together towards a common goal. Agile practices, both technical and organizational, build a framework which makes having the right amount of collaboration and feedback possible. But there's a bootstrapping process: How do yo…