This Month’s Pattern *

50 The Empty Chair

No individual is accountable for the conceptual integrity of the entire user experience.

Some time ago, I was working with a company developing security systems. The company’s new product generation was to have speech input and output in addition to the touchscreen interface on its line of small devices. Therefore, management had set up two user-interface teams: one responsible for the touch screens and one responsible for the audio interface. These two teams were located in different cities working off their feature lists without ever questioning the overall business process that the devices were meant to support. Looking at the project from the outside, one could immediately see that more discussion between the two would have led to a far better use of the two technologies. —JSR

Imagine that your company is awarded a new development contract and that you are appointed as project manager. You feel capable of doing the job since you have all the required skills and experience. You distribute the work according to the different skills needed, either among depart ments in your company or between your own departments and a partner company that is specialized in one of the relevant technical domains. You have capable subproject managers, and they take up their assignments with enthusiasm. The subproject teams are content with the work allocated to them, they understand the goals of the overall project, and they do a fantastic job in their domain. They do come back to you, but only for more time or money or other resource-related project issues. Your sub-teams work in different geographical areas, but you are not worried since the distribution of work among the teams is well documented. They formally cooperate with each other, negotiate interfaces, and share their intermediate results.

The customer offers excellent domain input for the subject matter, but different domain experts are assigned to the different subprojects. And sometimes these domain experts do not even know who among their colleagues is working on the other part of the same project.

At the helm of the project, you and the top manager from the customer organization work closely together to manage expectations and to track the progress of the many sub-teams.

And yet, your project is almost certain to yield a product that does not work very well in the eyes of its users. What’s wrong?

Your project has left one chair empty. Many projects fall short of real success for want of a single individual whose responsibility it is to ensure that the resulting business process—from the users’ points of view—works as well as possible. This person is interested in the best output of the overall project for the customer’s business—down to the finest details.

We’re not talking about a project manager, nor are we talking about the overall leader of the project team. This person may not have any direct reports, and he almost certainly is not also accountable for budget or schedule. His entire focus is on how the product will interact with its target environment, especially its users.

Such persons carry all manner of job titles: product manager, system architect, business analyst, and so on. Some call themselves technical project managers since their job is to care about the details of the solution (in contrast with the overall project manager, who handles budgets, staff, and schedules). Regardless of the title, these people are not part of any sub-team; they work across all sub-teams.

It may be sufficient to have such a person only on the customer side. If somebody from the customer’s organization constantly questions the synergy of the subproject, you may succeed, even if the teams on the contractor’s side lack any similar unifying role.

The empty chair is even more often found in projects chartered to integrate already existing products. Here, the technical aspects of integration drive the project while details of business integration, ergonomics of user interaction, and creative ideas that could lead to breakthrough synergies are ignored.

Take a look around your project team’s table. Is there an empty chair?



* Each month we plan to publish here one of the patterns from our Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies — Understanding Patterns of Project Behavior. (Watch this space for a mere 86 months and you'll have read the whole thing.) The book is published by Dorset House Publishing, in the US and Hanser Verlag in Germany. It is available at Amazon and also as a Kindle book.

events

London, BA Conference Europe
22-Sep-2014 to 22-Sep-2014

Business Analysis Conference Europe James Robertson and James Archer present their tutorial Creating Innovative Solutions to Meet Business Needs. Details and registration a Details and registration at Business Analysis Conference Europe 2014.

London, BA Conference Europe
23-Sep-2014 to 23-Sep-2014

The Business Analysis Conference Europe is held in central London. This year Suzanne Robertson gives the keynote It’s Not What You Say, It’s What’s Heard: How Business Analysts Can Overcome Communication Barriers. Details and registration at Business Analysis Conference Europe 2014.

Brussels, MRP part 2
9-Oct-2014 to 10-Oct-2014

Brussels, Mastering Business Analysis
09-Oct-2014 to 10-Oct-2014

James Robertson teaches Mastering Business Analysis. Contact IT Works for details of this course.  

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process part 2
13-Oct-2014 to 14-Oct-2014

Suzanne Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process part 2. Details for this advanced class at Den Norske Dataforeningen.

Hilversum, Mastering the Requirements Process
14-Oct-2014 to 16-Oct-2014

James Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details please contact Adept Events. Dutch description, or in English.

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
15-Oct-2014 to 17-Oct-2014

Mastering the Requirements Process with Suzanne Robertson. Contact Den Norske Dataforeignen for details. 

Rome, Mastering the Requirements Process
20-Oct-2014 to 22-Oct-2014

Rome, Mastering Business Analysis
23-Oct-2014 to 24-Oct-2014

James Robertson teaches Mastering Business Analysis. Contact Technology Transfer for details of this course.  

Hilversum, Mastering Business Analysis
10-Nov-2014 to 11-Nov-2014

James Robertson teaches the popular Mastering Business Analysis. Details from Adept Events in English or Dutch.

London, Mastering the Requirements Process
11-Nov-2014 to 13-Nov-2014

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details and registration, please contact IRM UK.

Wellington, Mastering the Requirements Process part 2
24-Nov-2014 to 25-Nov-2014

Suzanne Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process part 2. Details for this advanced class at Software Education.

Wellington, Mastering the Requirements Process
26-Nov-2014 to 28-Nov-2014

The ever popular Mastering the Requirements Process. For details please contact Software Education.  

Melbourne, Mastering the Requirements Process
1-Dec-2014 to 3-Dec-2014

Suzanne Robertson presents Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact Software Education  for details and registration. 

Sydney, Mastering the Requirements Process
1-Dec-2014 to 3-Dec-2014

DeMarco Keynote at OOP Konferenz 2015 in Munich
27-Jan-2015 to 27-Sep-2014

Tom DeMarco gives the keynote at the OOP Konferenz 2015 in Munich, January 29, 2015.

in depth

James Robertson’s webinar for Software Education explains how agile stories are best used to ensure the right solution. Writing the Right Agile Stories on YouTube. Download the webinar slides.


Suzanne and James Robertson’s article The Requirements Food Chain explores how the originators and consumers of requirements interact with each other as the requirement matures.


Win a free pass to the BA Conference Europe, London, September 22-24, 2014, normally costing £1374 to attend. This competition is sponsored by Volere and the Atlantic Systems Guild Limited.



Read Tom DeMarco's article from the July/August edition of IEEE Software: Sigil, BlueGriffon, and the Evolving Software Market.



Suzanne Robertson is one of the Agile Experts who discuss the subject of Scrum versus Kanban. The report is published by the Cutter Consortium and they have kindly made it available to readers of our web site. The lead author, Johanna Rothman, sets forth her argument that one is not necessarily better than the other; they are just different and it's up to the organization to figure out which method is best under which circumstance. In response, seven of Cutter's Agile experts discuss their views on Crossing the Agile Divide.


Tom DeMarco's speculative novel, Andronescu's Paradox is now available from Amazon or Nook.  It will be released in German 1Q2015 by Hanser Verlag. 

"This war isn't going to blow anything up, only turn everything off."



Complete Systems Analysis - the Workbook, the Textbook, the Answers by Suzanne Robertson and James Robertson is now in e-book format. It is available as a Kindle book, from InformIT, or you can download a sample chapter.


Tim Lister was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk.
Lister, Keynote at Agile 2013Tim Lister was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk
was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk - See more at: http://podcasts.bigvisible.com/?p=255#sthash.G1hS2edS.dp
was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk - See more at: http://podcasts.bigvisible.com/?p=255#sthash.G1hS2edS.dpuf
Tim Lister, Keynote at Agile 2013


Announcing the publication of the third edition of Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister's iconic text, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams.  The book is available now from Amazon or directly from Addison Wesley. See press release on Business Wire.



Read Tom DeMarco's essay from the July/August issue of Software Magazine.  It's entitled, Bells, Whistles, Power, and the Requirements Process.



In this podcast James speaks of his experience in the profession of architecture and how it provides inspiration for his work on innovation and creativity. He also discusses the role of the business analyst in agile teams. Listen to the podcast.


There are now seven books by Guild authors available as ebooks, either as Nook Books or as Kindle Books.  



See what all the fuss is about. Tom DeMarco's article in IEEE Software seems to have annoyed practically everyone: "Software Engineering, an idea whose time has come and gone?"


Shane Hastie's interview with the authors and book excerpt: Mastering the Requirements Process on InfoQ.


The preparation course for the IREB "Certified Professional for Requirements Engineering" is now available as video training. Learn at home or any other place. Including questionnaires to prepare you for the multiple choice test.



Mastering the Requirements Process, third edition Getting Requirements Right is now available as a Kindle Book, Nook Book, or in traditional paper.



A Sci-Fi novel from Tom DeMarco: Andronescu’s Paradox.  Could this be the Apocalypse we’ve all been dreading?  Or has the nineteenth century just returned for an encore?  Click to find out.



The Guild's Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies is now available in a Kindle edition.


Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister's perennially popular book Peopleware is now available in a Kindle Edition.