Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Haunting Truth of Project Management

Sometimes managing a project can become downright scary. There are times when it seems like all the players have taken on these masks and have just randomly re-mixed themselves - playing the part of others.

If you've been in software development for any amount of time, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. There's a certain point in the development process (normally between 3/4 and 9/10 finished) when people do or say things that just don't match up with what was agreed upon or stated clearly in other meetings.

It's like - they have the face and voice of Tom, but the things they're saying just don't make any sense. They voice objections for issues long resolved or introduce new requirements at the 11th hour. It's like they weren't even in the room when the issues/requirements were agreed upon.

I keep waiting for them to say "Trick or Treat!" or "April Fool's Day!" or something.

But they don't.

They're serious.


I can understand the typical CYA (Cover Your Ass) moves that inevitably crop up as a project comes closer to completion - but there are limits. No one wants to take blame (only credit!) and not only that they start treating the project like a Mission Impossible agent who's fallen into enemy hands: "In the case you're caught or captured we will disavow any knowledge of you or your mission..."

It's like someone has completely deleted the file named "The Project We've Been Working On For Months" from their hard drive. Needless to say this can cause some "friction" between the developers and the other stakeholders in the project.

This goes beyond the traditional " just doesn't work.." from the users and the developers claiming " does too work...". I've found that it's a lack of communication. Next time I run into this situation - I'm going to try this:
  1. Offer them a piece of candy - because surly some alien being is just pretending to be them - OR if that fails;

  2. Offer them a glimpse at the 300+ pages of notes and emails (yes, it's good to print them out and save them!) and see if that refreshes their memory - OR if that fails;

  3. Grab their ears and try to force the damn mask off

Feel free to submit your own tips...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

It's Better to Look Good

So, all of my Mac buddies are waiting with bated breath for the release of the new OS X Operating System dubbed "Leopard" this coming Friday. Their eyes are wide, their cheeks are flush and they have credit card in hand - just bursting to buy and install this OS update.

Folks - it's NOT the freakin' iPhone... it's an operating system. I didn't see any of my Windows buddies lined up to install a .0 version of Vista. They weren't all a twitter over new features or time-saving doohickeys. They were waiting for the other shoe to drop. In the Windows world there is NO WAY you would ever install an operating system that is at .0 status. You would wait for the first service pack (at least).

Nonetheless, my Mac friends can't wait to get their hands on this product (in most cases they pre-ordered). Never mind the fact that most of the commercial applications will break, or that some 3rd party drivers need to be updated or that there are tons of bug in the Java implementation - frankly, they don't care.

They are drooling over the interesting new features in the OS: Time Machine (automatic backup), Spaces (organized groups of running program windows) and Cover Flow views in the Finder (browse documents like you browse albums on the iPod). There are supposedly loads of more improvements (Apple says over 300+) to Safari, the mail program and others - but those three (Time Machine, Spaces and Cover Flow) are a couple of the most noticeable "WOW" features.

I was watching the video overview and the stuff they've done is pretty cool. I was especially impressed with Time Machine - their new backup program. In typical Apple fashion, they have taken something that used to be relegated to tree lists and scrolling lists of files - and made it a totally visual experience. You can open up a folder and click the button on the dock - and the screen "slides up" and now you see lots of windows that are "stacked" on each other and lines down the right side of the screen.

The lines represent days, and you can click on a day - and the windows will move forward (right at you!) until it comes to the day you selected and will show you a snapshot of the way the folder (or iPhoto album) looked on that date. To "restore" an item - just click it and click "restore" and you are zoomed out to the current view of the window - and that item will appear just where it was before you deleted it.

Same kind of thing with "Spaces". It's really just a way to hide selective windows of running applications - but it's pretty cool. You tell it how many "spaces" you want and then you can have any number of windows open and you can put them into a "space." This lets you have games in one space, browser and text editor in another, etc. You can even drag and drop windows between spaces to re-organize it. Cool.

Finally, there is the Cover Flow view of your documents. It shows previews (on that glossy, reflective surface) just like on the iPod. BUT, you can also click on a document (in the demo it was a slide preso) and you can page through the document while you're in that Cover Flow view.

Cool? You bet!

Life-changing? Not so much.

Worth having a bunch of broken productivity apps and utilities for 3 months? Not hardly.

Hey, don't get me wrong. I love the Mac OS, it's very cool. And now that they're bringing their default OS more in-line with iTunes - they are creating one great (closed and proprietary) franchise. Just like Windows...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Culture Is Not Dead

The ServoyWorld Conference was absolutely wonderful - the best yet - and it was really, really great to see all the new faces as well as all the familiar "fans" as well. I've been in The Netherlands for the past 10 days - and this time around I actually got to actually see the city of Amsterdam.

Sure, I had the usual plate of speaking, organizing, customer meetings, sales meetings, staff meetings, partner meetings, etc. that always goes on - but I actually got a chance to get out of the hotel (not my default mode, if you have ever traveled with me).

In fact, the first day we arrived my wife, Brenda, and I used almost all forms of transportation known to man: walking, car, bus, plane, tram, boat, subway and taxi. I think we only left off biking and skateboarding! Needless to say, we had a blast. In all the times I've been to Holland and the times I've been to Amsterdam, I really had never gone past the "tourist" sections.

This time was very different. We had a wonderful dinner with Marcel Trapman (CEO of IT2Be) and his girlfriend Monique at a very charming restaurant located in the basement of a building. I would have NEVER even known it was there - and forget about ever going there on my own. After dinner we walked to the downtown "Theatre District" and had a couple of drinks at an old bar. It was really, really nice.

Then there was the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The home of the grand master Rembrant - and viewed all the paintings, artwork, porcelain, swords, etc. from the 15th - 17th Century. You could literally stand 2 feet from the stuff - and it was really awesome viewing the famous (and not-so-famous) works of these artists from hundreds of years ago. There were some that were so photo-realistic, that today people would just use Photoshop and give it the "brush look." But these folks were hard-core - they even had to mix their own paints, and would work on single paintings for up to 2-1/2 YEARS. Amazing.

With all the culture, history, architecture (there are buildings leaning at a 15 degree angle - in more than one direction - so much that they have to trim the doors so they will open every few years), atmosphere, shopping and cool stuff - I could STILL pick an American out of the crowd, no problem.

The first tip-off is the white shoes and socks, followed by the volume of their voice and their hurry in getting their check and leaving (not done in Holland - where people love to just hang out and having dinner is a 2+ hour experience). They were always the ones in the coffee houses trying illegal (but tolerated) substances, were the ones at the Red Light District taking up a collection for a buddy to go into one of the "red light" houses (brothel), etc.

I wore non-white shoes, with non-white socks and dressed like everyone else (jeans and nice shirt). If anyone asked - we were from "Canada", eh? The public transportation system is amazing, and the people are very nice - and 99% of them speak very good English (WAY better than my Dutch!).

If you ever get a chance to go there - I would highly recommend it!
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