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Project Illuminatus, an introduction

Posted by Mon, 14 Aug 2006 23:52:00 GMT

4 comments Latest by Alain Tue, 15 Aug 2006 16:06:46 GMT

Due to an unfortunate event last week, this blog entry is a few days late.

Over the next few weeks and months, the PLANET ARGON team will be blogging about one of our big projects that recently started. We needed to get the client to sign off on the blogging project and got the a-okay from their management early last week.

First, some background.

We were contacted by this rather large (enterprise?) company around the time that we went to RailsConf. When we got back, I began talking with our primary point of contact about their project, which sounded like a fairly big challenge and the sales process took a few weeks to come to an agreement on the next steps. Once they were finished interviewing a few other potential firms, we got the go-ahead that we should proceed with an ITER-ZERO, which I outlined a few months ago in part one of, The Art of Delivery.

ITER-ZERO was essentially a two-day trip for Brian and I to Washington DC (pictures) to interview the client and some of their existing users (domain experts), establish the protocol and channels for communication between them (the client) and our team, and work on identifying the core goals of their product that we’ll be developing with them. They have an existing product that they’ve been selling to customers for over ten years and the product that we’ll be developing will be the next generation of this software. The new product is replacing a desktop application that is only runs on Windows. The application that we’re currently working has a technical requirement that is needs to run on any operating system with a modern web browser, including some of the newer phones that have Opera mini installed! As you can see, we have our work cut out for us… :-)

During our meetings, we agreed that while their final product name is going through their marketing process, that we should have a playful project name to refer to. Our primary contact at the firm suggested, Project Illuminatus[1]. He’s a bit of a conspiracy theory nut… and it sounded fun… so we agreed to that. :-)

If I recall, Brian and I stayed up past 2am (the time zone change does that to you…) working on structuring the project wiki (instiki) to document the dialogue that occurred on our first day in DC. This provided us with a solid plan for how we wanted to focus our attention to identifying the goals that we wanted to collaborate on with the client to build an innovative and simple to define solution. Simple solutions emerge from even complex goals when you can clarify them using simple and intelligible language.

In this great blog interview, Stiff asked several famous developers the following question, “What do you think makes some programmers 10 or 100 times more productive than others?”

David Heinemeir Hannsson responded with, “The ability to restate hard problems as easy ones.”

On day two, we showed their team the wiki and explained how they could collaborate with us there. If they had ideas and new goals identified, they had a place to store those. It’s vital that your attention is on the scope of the work that needs to be investigated. We try not to solve all of the problems too quickly… it’d be naive of us to think that we could. Products evolve and so must their requirements.

I’m not going to go into everything that went on here at the moment, perhaps Brian will fill us in on some of this.

When we got back to Portland, Brian and I began meeting with Allison Beckwith, our Creative Director, to outline one of the most complex pieces of the system. As a team, we decided that this is what we need to focus more of our immediate attention to. In the their previous application, there was approximately five different modules that did something very similar, but just slightly different enough for their original developers to just build separate interfaces, which were not consistent and difficult to use for someone new to the application. We want to consolidate this into one new solution that focuses on how the users will be using the system… not just the tasks that they are fulfilling. This is why we spend so much time thinking about the goals that the users have… not what they have to do.

Oh yeah… one of the non-functional requirements?

“The product shall be easy to use on the first attempt by a member of the general public without training.”[2]

About a week later, we agreed on what work would be performed during ITER-001 (iteration one), which included paper prototyping and a few rounds wireframe mockups for this one major component of the application. I’ll let Allison Beckwith (yes! she started a blog) fill you in on this when she gets some time to outline her process for doing this.

Stay tuned…

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illuminatus

2 copied directly from Mastering the Requirements Process, 2nd edition. It works.. and does it need to be reestated any simpler than that?

Trawling for Requirements

Posted by Thu, 08 Jun 2006 19:49:00 GMT

5 comments Latest by g! Fri, 09 Jun 2006 07:46:28 GMT

This morning, Brian Ford and I headed over to Powell’s Technical Bookstore to pick up their one used copy of Code Complete, 2nd ed. While we both stood there reviewing the contents, I felt somewhat unsatisfied with the purchase that I was about to make. It then occurred to me that what I was looking for was quite different and while the programmer side of me felt the need to make the purchase, there was another void to fill. Requirements gathering, prototyping, use cases, and delivery are areas where I am really focusing a lot of my attention to. Brian and I discussed how Test-Driven Development solves some of the problems surrounding application development and Behavior Driven Development might pick up on some of that slack as well.. but what about the stuff that happens prior to sitting down to code these units of work? How do we define them? How do we extract meaningful requirements from the client and allow them to participate in a sign-off process where they confirm that they are confident that you understand what their problem is and that you have a clear picture of a solution? These are questions that I have been trying to answer for myself.

While talking with Brian during our walk to and in the store… a random Delphi developer that struck up a conversation with us about the Code Complete book we had in our hands and XP methodology. While listening to him, I noticed a book title, Mastering the Requirements Process, 2nd ed., which I picked it up and glanced at the table of contents and noticed the title for Chapter 5, “Trawling for Requirements.”

”...in which we drag the net through the work area looking for requirements, and discuss some useful techniques for doing so”

I was immediately drawn to the book at that point and decided to purchase up both books for the PLANET ARGON library. It’s written by Suzanne and James Robertson and published by Addison Wesley.

The book describes this figure with, “The overlap between Requirements Gathering and Systems Modeling varies as the development of the product progresses. Initially, very little modeling is done, and the majority of the effort focuses on gathering and verifying requirements. As development continues, the modeling activity expands to occupy a continually greater proportion of the effort.”

I’m really looking forward to diving deeper into this book and will share my thoughts on Requirements Gathering and how we’re doing it at PLANET ARGON. :-)