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A small town in England

October 30, 2012

They came together in a small town in the north-west.  Their brief was to assemble a Methodology.

They were experienced professionals who had spent a life time in developing information systems. But, much time can be spent on developing a full-blown systems development methodology. And such time costs much money.

If that were not enough, the sponsors had their own ideas on the content of their work. Whilst not completely at odds with the professionals, they did have their own expectations. It was a struggle initially.

He chose to stay in a nearby village. It was a pleasant evening stroll on Queen Anne Street, along the river bank for most of the way, to the Riverside Inn. It was a quiet Monday evening. In the Drawing Room, the grand fireplace was blazing. He stood in the doorway and admired the rich wall-paper, leather sofas and, in particular, the grand piano.

After supper, he retired to the grand piano, where, after some finger-warming exercises, he played Beethoven’s Fur Elise, repeatedly, albeit with his own variations, to himself.

They resumed their lengthy discussions in the morning. Over the years, he had come to encapsulating systems development in the acronym: “CADBUDS”:-

  1. Concept – a business sponsor has a simple concept – the overarching purpose;
  2. Analysis – Much analysis of the sponsor’s requirement, followed by technical analysis;
  3. Design – translating the business requirement into a technical solution – always the most difficult step; so, reduce risk or later re-work by insisting on “Design Reviews”;
  4. Build – coding and testing the solution; insist on Code Reviews.
  5. User Acceptance – ensuring that the solution is what the users actually had in mind
  6. Deployment – deploying the solution into the Production environment
  7. Support – Supporting (maintaining) and enhancing the system

In addition, there may be separate additional stages which deal with providing Detailed Requirements and, most importantly, Reconciliation – intra-system (largely technical) as well as inter-system (to verify Data Quality) etc. In which case, the acronym becomes “CRADBURDS”, especially if one likes rolling the “R”s.

His argument was that whatever piece of work you did, however big or small it might be, whether it was part of Agile or Waterfall – if you simply remembered (and actually implemented)  CRADBURDS then you would not go far wrong.

He returned to the Riverside Inn and resumed his renditions of Fur Elise. This time he was not alone. A child’s face appeared around the door, watching and listening intently. When he left, the child took his place, retrieved his Grade 1 book from within the piano stool, and began to practise.

The sun rose on that small town in England and he enjoyed the walk along the river bank and through the old town, along the cobbled streets to the place of work; where the arguments continued.

The problem with Waterfall is that it does not work in fast-paced environments, such as investment banks. Paralysis by Analysis. Conversely, the problem with Agile is that it descends into JFDI. Someone has a concept and demands a quick turnaround; so the developers proceed to coding and testing without any proper analysis and design. In short, CRADBURDS too often becomes CBDS!

And so it became almost routine – he would practice first, and then the child would follow. It may be that the child was inspired by his finger work. The child was patient too – happy to hear what was being played. When he left and the child started to play, the child was not alone either.

Eventually, they agreed on a set of templates. It is necessary to have a written definition of, for example, what constitutes a “Technical Architecture”. It is important to clearly differentiate between a Conceptual Data Model, a Logical Data Model and a Physical Data Model. These are 3 different artefacts. One is not the same as the other. In the heat of Agile systems development, it is necessary to be able to turn to the templates to resolve any misconceptions – especially if some members of the project team have never had to deliver any of these artefacts before.

The child was making remarkable progress; and getting a bigger audience. When they had first gathered around to hear the little one play, their faces were sombre, almost expressionless, mainly unkempt, and  some with deep reddish-brown marks around their necks. But, their presence did not bother the little one. As the days went by their expressions changed; as the child got better, they became happier.  It was time to sit the Grade 1 exam.

They were all agreed upon the importance of having an Estimating Model. A methodology must include an Estimating model. Especially for large Fixed-Price projects. But, it cannot be a black-box. There must be transparency. It must be possible to drill-down into the detail. How did you arrive at that number of man-days?

They waited for the child in tense anticipation. And eventually, the child came through the door beaming and waving his Grade 1 certificate. They gathered around clapping and slapping the child on the back in adulation. They demanded the child played for them again. For the encore, the child played His favourite piece – Fur Elise.

Alone in the Dining Room, he thought he heard a small commotion across the hallway and the faint but unmistakable strains of his favourite piece of music. He finished his meal, pushed his chair back beneath the table and walked across the hallway and stood in the doorway of the Drawing Room.

He spent his last day tidying up the VISIO diagrams.  There was much to do before he caught the train back to the Big Smoke. As he went about applying the finishing touches to the diagrams (“works of art”, in his opinion), he could not help but reflect upon his time at the Riverside Inn; and the last night, in particular.

He was sure he had heard a commotion in the Drawing Room. But, when he had stood in the doorway and looked in, the room was empty.

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