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The Confession

February 8, 2012

Aim to leave things in a better place.

I have been asked to conduct numerous, varied but primarily technical assessments.  They range in scale from conducting wide-ranging system audits to simply improving a single fragment of badly-performing T-SQL code.

The wider ranging ones are, arguably, akin to being in a Confessional, albeit on the other side. A good and technically knowledgeable listener is required. But, enquiring is also permitted and is essential in certain situations. And, hopefully, the end result is that everyone is left in a better place.

Here are 10 lessons that I have learned over the years from the more wide ranging assessments:-

Lesson #1 – Establish the Problem Definition

If it is not provided then write it yourself and get confirmation. Seriously.

Lesson #2 – Determine why someone is concerned

Ask – and they will tell you – you might even be given a whole slide-deck for your perusal!

It will tell you why – it will help to “zero-in”  on the areas of concern

Lesson #3 – Establish what is IN-SCOPE and what is OUT-OF-SCOPE

Be bold – what is out-of-scope may be important

Lesson #4 – Understand The Firm

It’s background – it may be in the midst of the throes of “integration”.  You will need to know this for the “casual” conversations during the coffee and lunch breaks.

It’s locations: ”far-flung” places that you will need to get to

Lesson #5 – Understand the “Divisions”

Architects, Analysts, Developers, End-Users, DBAs, Testers, Support; as well as

the Others e.g. the software vendor

Lesson #6Time Management

All assessments are usually Time-Boxed, so map the days out.

From the outset – Prepare a “Daily” Plan with contingency slots at regular intervals.

For example, for a budgeted 10 man-day assessment:-

Days 1,3,4 – Interviews, in different locations

Day 2 – Prep – Areas of Investigation

Days 5 & 6 – Initial Draft

Days 7,8,9 – End-less Reviews & Refinement (fill-in-the-gaps)

Day #10 – showcase findings

Lesson #7The Daily Shout

Consider having daily catch-up conference calls at, say 4pm to identify show-stoppers; and

discuss findings to-date during these calls – so that, at the end – nothing comes as a surprise

Lesson #8The Confession

Face-to-Face Discussions work best for me  (for the important people)

(even if they are in far-flung places)

Otherwise, Conference Calls are the next best thing

(Use e-mail for Intro & Follow-up & Thank You)

Prep! Prep! Prep! – Always prep for all meetings – don’t lose sight of the wood from the trees!

Not forgetting: Style – We are all different – Some humour may help!

Lesson #9Take a break!

I read the whole book in one day, on the train journeys between long and intensive meetings.

Lesson #10 – Don’t be surprised (or even disappointed) if not one of your recommendations is implemented (for now). (That’s the twist.)

Finally, such wide-ranging assessments should aim to add-value.

You have had the luxury to look at an application with a fresh pair of eyes – try to uncover just one important potential problem which, if rectified, will leave the application in a better place.


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