Archive for February, 2013

The technology industry, or at least a fair chunk of the technology industry, doesn’t like the notion of more than one way of doing something. It is at its most comfortable with clear cut migrations of the ilk of VHS tape to DVD. “You now have this, so you won’t want that any more” is the thinking. New supersedes old. And it’s not just that new supersedes old, but that this happens in its entirety. Things move forward along predictable lines based on wholesale replacement.

So the report i recently stumbled across here, about IP-TV (connected TV) as well as this article about NetFlix releasing new content online ahead of television are both interesting on a number of fronts. Not for the first time, the implications in both is that television is about to be shaken to its very foundations.

With the number of reports and amount of research, speculation, conjecture and general cerebral cortex being dedicated to this topic over the years, I am amazed that television has any foundations left. Yet television is still in a very strong position and shows no signs of being overtaken by IP, Cloud or other Internet-based TV options of the sort these reports describe.

And let’s be clear. The reason this isn’t happening is much the same reason radio didn’t disappear a decade or more ago.

In fact if we look back, it turns out that radio is a medium people have been writing off for 50 years. It survived “you won’t need it any more because we now have television – you know, with pictures” in the 50s and 60s, and “you won’t need it any more because of compilation tapes and Walkmans in the 70s and 80s, and “you won’t need it any more because of downloads” in the 90s and 00s. The latest onslaught – the ability to download or stream podcasts, music when you want and programmes when you want hasn’t made much difference to radio’s popularity. The last research I saw on listening habits suggested something like 90% of the UK population listen to radio at some point during the week. Pretty impressive considering I was reading articles 5 or 6 years ago by assorted ‘experts’ and ‘visionaries’ predicting that all of this would kill it off once and for all.

Downloading stuff in no way replaces the immediacy, ‘newness’ and (if it is done well) unpredictability of radio. A collection of downloads does not a radio station make. No matter how big your music collection, no matter how many gigabytes of ‘stuff’ you have, much of the time you will be quite happy with the radio providing a schedule of something that someone has compiled in the hope you might like it.

Often you won’t, but often you will.

And pretty much the same philosophy applies to television. The ability to download or seek out what you supposedly might “want” when you want doesn’t undermine the fact that people will often be quite happy with viewing a channel or maybe a series of channels without having to spend time making selections – exactly the same as they do with radio. That is not to say that they will not also use on demand services, But this will be at different times and is based on occasion, mood and and a whole range of subjective reasons that – thank heavens – the market research folks will never be able to fully categorise, pin down and document for administrative convenience. The issue isn’t that different people adopt different technologies. Nor is it about ‘migration’ from one thing to another or ‘replacement’ of what is supposedly ‘old’. The issue that people can’t come to terms with is that the same people may use all of what is available. Just at different times.

“Both” is good. Unfortunately it doesn’t make for a very lively PowerPoint presentation.

A bit of research via the Internet and some business analysis textbooks and you arrive at the conclusion there are five common problems encountered with requirements gathering.

So far so good. Unfortunately there is no agreement on what those ‘five’ actually are.

I have come across these:

  • Customers don’t (really) know what they want
  • Requirements change during the course of the project
  • Customers have unreasonable timelines
  • Communication gaps exist between customers, engineers and project managers
  • The development team doesn’t understand the politics of the customer’s organisation

And these:

  • Teams speak a different language
  • Pushing for Development to start
  • Delaying the documentation – We will document along the way
  • Keeping requirements Feasible and Relevant
  • Inadequate Review, Feedback, Closure

And many more.

Everything above is correct of course – these are all perfectly valid. But I have written previously on these pages about a trend in recent years for the technology team to be approached even without any detailed requirements at all. “Make it work” is the “requirement” – such as it is – and technology are expected not just to deliver a solution but to create requirements themselves, on behalf of the customer. I personally don’t have an issue with technology operating like this, though I have encountered people over the years that would throw their hands up in absolute horror. Even more discomfort is in store for those who (wrongly) seem to view technology merely as a ‘supplier’ of solutions – much like the people supplying the coffee machines or photocopiers…. Another topic for another time perhaps.

I have spent a fair proportion of my professional life untangling applications and processes that nobody in the company properly understood. Quite why organisations let themselves get into this situation when very often they will have built the applications in the first place (they didn’t appear out of thin air), is an interesting question for another occasion. For now though, let’s just acknowledge that we’re stuck with situations like this.

I’ve met many Business Analysts who aren’t concerned in the slightest about what I have just said. Many even purposely steer clear of looking too carefully at any pre-existing applications. The belief seems to be that looking at what already exists in some way contaminates their judgement.

To be fair, there is something in this. What already exists can be a constraint to peoples thinking. But equally it can give useful insight. We can learn from the past. The reason things are the way they are is often significant.

Technology isn’t just about building something new. Sometimes it is about getting more from what we have. Reverse engineering can help us stabilise and improve what we have, improve our acceptance testing and knowledge generally. I find it surprising it is not used more, and why so many people (analysts, developers and others) try to steer clear of it.

If we can reverse engineer a UFO (as I saw on TV a while back) why not use the technique on software more regularly?