Read my latest article: 8 things I look for in a Ruby on Rails app (posted Thu, 06 Jul 2017 17:59:00 GMT)

Clients Deserve Simplicity

Posted by Mon, 07 Aug 2006 03:57:00 GMT

1 comment Latest by Sammy Mon, 07 Aug 2006 11:41:08 GMT

A few months ago, I posted an article titled, Trawling for Requirements, which was just before the Argon Express left for our trip to Chicago for RailsConf 2006. I’ve been kicking around some ideas with Brian ever since that afternoon on how there just seemed to be a big void in software development arena. It’s always felt that so many of the software development methodologies are designed to get developers to find a better way to work for and with clients. It’s our goal to outline a pattern that simplifies this process, not just for ourselves, but also our clients.

With each new project that our team starts, we are given an opportunity to improve on our evolving pattern for communicating with clients to better understand their goals. If there is one thing that we’ve seen help this process, it is consistent dialogue. When good collaboration exists through meaningful dialogue, confidence increases in not only the client. As developers, we are able to be confident that we understand their goals. This should generate better results.

“You are not writing requirements to serve as a contract with your client. Rather, you are writing them to ensure that both of you share the same and demonstrably correct, understanding of what is needed. Do not ask the client to sign off on the requirements; instead, ask the client to sign on to them and make them a collaborative effort.”

—Suzanne and James Robertson, Mastering the Requirements Process, 2nd Ed.

In Mastering the Requirements Process, the authors list the following as being key to identifying the project goal.

  • Purpose: What should the project do?
  • Advantage: What business advantage does it provide?
  • Measurement: How do you measure the advantage?
  • Reasonable: Given what you understand about the constraints, is it possible for the product to achieve the business advantage?
  • Feasible: Given what you have learned from the blastoff, is it possible to build a product to achieve the measure?
  • Achievable: Does the organization have (or can it acquire) the skills to build the product and operate it once built?

At first glance, I would agree that these are good questions to find answers for with your client.

Requirements, Not Solutions

Many clients come to us with a list of solutions (features) that describe implementation. This has been one of our concerns with the Product Backlog as it doesn’t discourage feature lists. Take a moment to read Goal Oriented Requirements, which gives you a few bullets to think about when interacting with your client when extracting requirements.

Take a moment to read Brian’s thoughts on the product backlog.

In Mastering the Requirements Process, the authors give two examples to show the difference between a solution and a requirement.

A Solution

The product shall display pictures of goods for the customer to click on.

A Requirement

The product shall enable the customer to select the goods he wishes to order.

When requirements are defined in this form, it allows for further dialogue about multiple implementations.

For example, we’re working on a project where the product shall enable the users to send messages to a central system. We’ve defined a few specific implementations (email, text message, web form) and know that as new technologies emerge, the same requirement will still apply. It’s important to remember that we are gathering requirements not solutions and from there… we can collaborate with the client to design a solution that fits the requirements. Before we attempt to do solve the problem, we must ask that the requirement is aligned with the project goal.

We want our clients to assimilate our development methodologies quickly and naturally, which is what Dialogue-Driven Development aims to help achieve—namely through communication, something we humans do rather well. By lowering the learning curve and accelerating the integration of clients into our process, we can focus a greater sum of our collective energy on the needs of the client, the purpose of the project, and the goals of it’s users.

Although, perhaps we have it all wrong when trying to make software and the development process simpler as Paul Kedrosky suggested. ;-)

Our clients don’t just want simplicity. They deserve it!

Dialogue-Driven Development is about rounded corners

Posted by Sat, 05 Aug 2006 15:49:00 GMT

5 comments Latest by James Mon, 07 Aug 2006 22:01:31 GMT

In response to our introduction of Dialogue-Driven Development, mechanismalley.com writes, ”...it seems to be the Rails community’s pattern to take an existing concept — or misconception — put rounded corners on it and deem it something new.” (link)

I’m not sure that I can completely agree with this generalization. What I’ve witnessed as a member of the Rails community, is an attempt to simplify code, solutions, processes, and as a result… conversation between developers and clients has become much richer and coherent. Take this with a grain of salt as this has only been my experience. Complex solutions are complex to explain and often too complex to know if they are actually solving the right goal. On the other hand, simple solutions make way for better dialogue. With Ruby on Rails, we are provided with a foundation that encourages and embraces best practices and simple solutions (rounded corners?), which makes it easier to discuss with the client. This is what fascinates me about Ruby on Rails… and what Martin Fowler in his keynote at RailsConf.

Perhaps it makes sense that what Brian and I are outlining with our approach to defining patterns for client<->development team interaction evolved through us working with Ruby on Rails. However, there is nothing that requires Rails in order to follow the patterns that we’re discussing. In Brian’s first article about d3, he referenced the following…

“What we are seeing is a drive toward simplicity. Conventional wisdom once was “quick necessarily means dirty”. Ruby challenges that.
Martin Fowler

At the very core of our approach with Dialogue-Driven Development is the Agile Manifesto. The author of this post is correct, we’re taking an existing concept and putting rounded corners on it. We’re trying to make it simpler. We find that Scrum is too process heavy and while we can see it being a good step away from the Waterfall approach, it’s still not giving us that warm and fuzzy feeling. Rails developers know what that warm and fuzzy feeling is… and we are hoping to find something that gives our clients and us the same feeling when we’re not coding. We want lightweight methodologies to complement our lightweight frameworks and patterns.

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

The Agile Manifesto

It’s time to start rethinking how we work with clients. Too often we end up working for them and while we might build them what they want… we might not be giving them what they need.

So, I must ask… has working with Ruby on Rails reshaped the way you think about client and developer conversation? If so, for the better or worse?

High traces of collaboration and dialogue are usually found in the recipe of any successful project.

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