Wizardry and Requirements


Unexpected Troubles
As analysts, we can fall prey to another form of illusion-what we don't see, doesn't exist. Again, during the saga Harry faces an unknown adversary each school semester. He usually doesn't expect trouble. A few times he receives warnings. Either way, he seems to encounter the trouble where he least expects it.

Once upon a project, I coordinated information for six teams. Ultimately their software needed to blend into one large, complex system. The scenario was perfect for integration problems. Hence I threw myself into making sure everyone shared the same view about who owned what controls, functions, and information; who sent what to whom; and how we could compare specific data and assumptions. The technical analysis went relatively smoothly. That is, relative until I ran into a bigger problem: personal conflict that was eroding team trust.

Two of the team leads felt threatened by the new requirements process. The project manager wanted clear requirements for the whole system to identify common functionality and ensure that each team understood its specific charter. The two leads feared that they wouldn't make their schedule. Many others feared failure, feared being found out and feared admitting their fears. This anxiety overrode any examination of requirements.

In the end, we worked intentionally to ease fears, help people discover value in what the new project manager wanted, and move forward. In one episode Harry comprehends that his biggest fear isn't the dark wizard everyone refers to as You-Know-Who, but is fear itself. Fear emerges as the supreme dark force. And so it was on this project.

Some Survival Lessons
Harry's tales reminded me that our biggest dangers may be of our own making. We can be clever, brave, and talented, but not in all areas and not all the time. Here's my summary of lessons for surviving the requirements process:

  1. Illusion may substitute for reality for a while, and this can be both good and bad. Remain aware of exactly what you know, what you don't, and the consequences each might carry
  2. Watch out for what you can't see. It may surprise you and probably will force you to change direction
  3. Fear is a dark force that can disable the best of our efforts and us

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