March 8, 2005
Abstract vs. Concrete Thinking
This month we will move from technical topics to a management issue. What happens when requirements and design are not understood before they are signed and development starts? What happens when estimates are wrong and the project schedule is incomplete? What happens when there is inadequate interaction among developers and the business team? Some would call this situation normal, others would say it is a symptom of something bigger. The real problem is we don't all think alike and this gets in the way of effective communication.
Why donít we understand? Itís because we speak different languages, using the same words. It goes beyond techno talk getting in the way (that is a whole different problem). Often, our explanations are abstract, something hard for concrete thinkers to follow. In addition, there is the problem of sequential vs. random thinking.
The solution is to say the same thing several ways. It is sort of like translating into a different language as you talk. Once you know some simple rules to follow, you can do your own translating. What is the benefit? Well, if you want funding you better make sense to the business managers. If you want cooperation, you need to make sense to the people who will use your system. If you want developer commitment, you better make sense to the team building the system. If you write requirements that you want to be understood, you need to write them in multiple languages at the same time so the document makes sense to everyone. It is not as complicated as it sounds once you know how to do it.
Steve Wille heads a software development unit at Great-West Life. He has held senior IT management positions at Reliance Insurance, Guaranty National Insurance, Cahners Publishing, and Diners Club/CitiGroup.
Prior to joining Great-West, Steve took a three year sabbatical to read, write and teach the management side of software project management. You can find some of his work a www.toughteams.com/papers . Workshops he co-authored are offered by Tough Teams, Systemation, and TeamSkills Institute.
Steve is a Colorado native, has a BSBA from the University of Denver and an MBA from Regis University. For fun, Steve enjoys digital photography and has built a side business as a professional wedding photographer. You can see his work at www.stevewille.com. The other thing Steve does for fun is web development for small businesses and non profit organizations. He has been the RMIMA Web master since he first built the site in 1996. He he is a regular speaker at the Small Business Administration SCORE workshops regarding using the Internet to grow your business.
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