Wednesday, October 10, 2007

3 Lessons on Deadlines and Business Requirements

Well, here I am again, back after a "Got to have it now, pull out all the stops" project has been completed.

Let me give you a quick overview:

I had a client come to me on Sept 27th with an urgent request:
"We have a new system going into beta with several very important clients and we need a quick data mart and 2 reports. And we need them by next Tuesday!"

So with a fair amount of skepticism, I accepted the task. After all, this was a client that I have been dealing with for a while, and it was only 2 reports.

So, using SSIS and SQL 2k5, I put together the data mart (I had already been working on some data marts for this client, so I was familiar with their business and data model) and started looking in depth at the reports.

OOOOOPS!! Guess I should have done that first. By looking at the reports I could tell that the users had asked for some reports, the deadline aware project manager talked to the developers, who told the client that they only had time for 2 reports, not the 33 the users originally needed.

This was not 2 reports. It was "let's take all 33 reports, combine all of the parameters and fields and put them on 1 report, and then add 1 because we are allowed to."

So, I naturally did what any decent consultant would do. I balked. Not in a bad way, not rude or condescending, just factual:

While this 1 master report will work, is it really fulfilling the users needs? Do they need 28 parameters in the parameter bar in the SSRS report manager? It takes up 80% of the maximized browser window. How do they view the report? Also, the report is very slow, because you are joining not only fact tables and dimensions, but also different atomic level fact tables. Let's talk to the users to see what they really need.

So we did. And in doing so, we found out that they had indeed been told that they could only have 2 reports. So:

  • Lesson #1: If your users tell you they need X functionality, and you restrict them to only Y number of items, they WILL find a way to get X into the Y.

In talking with the user, we also found out that next Tuesday was NOT a hard fast deadline.

  • Lesson #2: Given the choice between crap in 2 days and gold in 2 weeks, most users will take the gold.

By giving the users my recommendations, they came to appreciate that someone was looking out for their best interests. They felt comfortable telling me their goals, their needs, as it pertains to these reports. I built up a relationship with these people. In turn, I made sure to try and understand what they needed, and provide it for them.

  • Lesson #3: Users are just people trying to get their job done. Respect that.

And they will get it done with or without your software, reports, data, etc. It's your job to make theirs easier, and to contribute to the well being of the company as a whole.

These seem to be pretty basic lessons, right? However, as a consultant, I see these same mistakes being made everywhere. And yet it surprises me every time. We, as an Information Technology industry, should never let these lessons slip from our minds. They are fundamental to our jobs, and to our industry as a whole.

In summary, the users defined 4 reports that would meet their immediate needs, and I was able to produce those reports for the users in a couple of days, and everyone is happy. Sounds like a cheesy movie, huh?


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