Friday, July 03, 2009

But Not The Kitchen Sink

I once worked with a guy. A nice guy. A smart one.

He was tall, and looked good. He was healthy. He made more money than I did, had a fancier job title.

He once tried to talk me into doing his work for him, but my one good brain cell caught on, and headed him off at the pass.

He normally didn't do that. Only that once. We were friends. But he was really stupid too.

At least I thought so, because of how he tried to have fun.

He had a wife, and they had two children. This isn't the dumb part.

They owned a house (also not dumb).

They had bought a timeshare condo at Cabo San Lucas. That's at the tip of the Baja peninsula in Mexico. (I hear distant sirens.)

This entitled them to two weeks a year. (The sirens are getting louder, approaching rapidly.)

So since they had a timeshare condo, this was where they had to take vacations. (Yikes, an ambulance is going to run over us!)

None of this mattered to me outside of its recreational value though.

When I hear this sort of thing I feel lucky not to be involved. But it makes entertaining talk at the cubicle farm.

Some parts of the story made my hair stand on end. The parts about how they packed and what they took. Golf clubs, swim fins, toys, a stereo system, a video gaming system, bicycles, a raft, and enough other things to squeeze all the remaining air out of their car.

Or maybe it was a van. I forget. Again, not my problem but I had to wonder.

What I had to wonder about was how anyone could have fun buried in clutter.

They didn't, so much, I guess. Vacation time was work.

There was lots of organizing, running around, packing, unpacking, and yelling (as it was told to me). Many things got moved from here to there, and then from there to here, and most of those things were not used at all (but were there, just in case).

After two weeks everyone was back home, resting up. Dreading the unpacking.

Unfortunately most software projects are like that. Except less organized, and much less fun, and much more expensive.

Here is the typical process, compared to a vacation from hell.

Vacation Software project
Buy the timeshare contract. Start locked in to a solution before you know what the problem is.
Call the family together. Hire staff (without knowing exactly what they'll do).
Reserve vacation time. Create a schedule composed of wild guesses butted up against iron clad delivery dates.
Fill the car with everything you own. Buy, lease, or steal tools. Any and all possible tools, especially the wrong ones.
Drive like crazy for days. Work, work, work, and hope you get somewhere.
Once there, do stuff, but don't have fun. Work, undo, rework, and hope you get something done, somehow.
Fight a lot. Form factions. Work at cross purposes. Argue, gossip, fight, swear.
Drive home, frazzled. Fall into your own bed, at last. Declare victory. Deny reality. Pretend not to notice the warts, or the fact that this toad has horns.
Go back to work. Spend evenings falling asleep in front of the TV. Nap on weekends to recover. Assign regular staff to bend things into a usable shape. Promote clueless managers and fire the brightest staff. Find more scapegoats as needed.
Notice how low your bank balance has gotten. Go out of business.

There are better ways. We'll leave vacation planning to you, but for development, the best thing to do is to...
  • Know your business needs.
  • Make only changes that fill those needs.
  • Keep things simple.
  • Work with people you know.
  • Rely on those you can trust.
  • Question everything and everyone, all the time.
  • Work in good faith.
  • Be honest.
  • Be open.
  • Be fair, adult, and considerate.
  • Understand that you don't know everything.
  • Stay flexible.
  • Do things only in small steps.
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Be grateful.
Be grateful for the chance to work, to make a difference, to be good, and to work with smart, caring, competent people. The rest is easy. (Or at least simpler.)

Do this, and it's like being on vacation all the time, but without a rubber raft stuck to the roof, or a trunk full of swim fins and hot, rattling golf clubs.



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