06 November 2017


I spent most of my weekend working on my NaNoWriMo book. If you aren't familiar with NaNoWriMo, the idea is to write 50,000+ words in a month, basically a novel. The degree to which you prepare for this event is entirely up to you. I've been talking about what I would write about since July, but I haven't really developed the details. 

So, I'm trying to write about gang members in Mexico, but I don't have a town name, a general description of the town, etc. I haven't even named the gang. Its all pretty vague.

So the problem with that is, nothing in the descriptions is named. Or if it is, it's in general terms. The Pontiac. The Boulevard. The Restaurant. Obviously, those are details I'll need to go back and fill in at some point. 

I've witnessed a parallel in project teams. Teams where an idea is discussed, changing the messaging infrastructure for example. The idea is discussed periodically in non-specific terms over an extended period of time, but there are never any details. 

Two things tend to happen. Often, because there is nothing concrete, the work never happens; it remains a goal that is unachieved. The other is, the work is attempted, but it is a horrid mess of a change because there wasn't agreement about the 'how and the what'. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for late binding on the 'how and what', but that ultimately has to happen. There should be a progression of work toward that 'how and what', maybe a series of spikes to prove or disprove things about the intended approach, but those need to be focused a little. Someone, someplace, has to provide a specific objective or set of criteria in order to focus the work.

There are a number of ways to get there. The Architect, as a technical product owner, can specify a set of behaviors required of the system. The Tech Lead could specify an approach, either in how the interaction should work, or even some specifics about the tool. The Director of Engineering might also have requirements about cost, platform selection, etc. Without these hints and nudges a team could drift aimlessly trying to make the change happen. 

One last thing that is essential. The work has to get scheduled. It won't just happen in between other cards on the board. The product management team must make a change important and schedule it; set a goal date for completion, or otherwise do something to cause the work to happen. Even if a development team agrees upon the importance of a change, they are beholden to the planned work. If it isn't on the schedule, it just wont happen.