This Month’s Pattern *

62 Hidden Beauty

Some aspect of the project’s work moves beyond adequate, beyond even elegant . . . and reaches for the sublime.

Some of us produce work that is intended for other eyes. If you’re the body designer of a new car style, for example, then a large part of the success of your work depends on the extent to which it is appreciated by others. If what they see pleases them, you will know it and derive pleasure and esteem from their response. If you’re good, this derived pleasure is a large part of your total remuneration package; depriving you of it would be like neglecting to pay your salary, practically a breach of your employment agreement. 

Now imagine instead that you are designing the self-test mechanism for airbags on the same vehicle. Almost no one will see the result of your work or even be more than marginally aware that it is there at all. So, one might suppose that success or failure of this work—and any attendant satisfaction that brings—should depend entirely on whether or not it achieves its assigned functionality, with no provision at all for aesthetics. 

What an error! Design is an inherently creative process in that it produces something where before there had been nothing at all. The act of creation can take you in many different directions, all perhaps functionally identical, but differing in ways that can only be termed aesthetic. Some designs are, quite simply, beautiful. Their beauty is not an added attribute, not a “decoration,” but a side effect of achieving functionality in a way that is at once natural and yet surprising. This can be just as true of those parts of the whole that are largely or totally hidden as it is of those that are visible to all. 

Since the inventor of Ethernet, Bob Metcalfe, is a friend, I thought I might look into the details of the Ethernet protocol to see how it was designed. I opened the spec to be informed, not charmed, but to my surprise, I found that the protocol was a thing of substantial beauty. It was spare where it needed to be spare, elegant in concept, and its recovery mechanism for lost packets was a simple derivative of the way the packets were originally transmitted. Its concept of collisions and the way it deals with them was unexpected, at least to me, but amazingly simple. Call me a weenie, but the Ethernet spec brought a lump to my throat. —TDM 

There is an aesthetic element to all design. The question is, Is this aesthetic element your friend or your enemy? If you’re a manager, particularly a younger manager, you might be worried that any aesthetic component of the designer’s work could be a waste, little more than the gold-plating that we’re all taught must be avoided. This aesthetics-neutral posture in a manager acts to deprive designers of appreciation for work that is excellent, and to refuse acknowledgment of any valuation beyond “adequate.” 

The opposite posture requires that you be capable and willing to look in detail at your people’s designs, and be aware enough to see quality when it’s there. Doing this for even the shortest time will quickly convince you that the gold-plating argument is a red herring; no design is made better in any way by piling on added features or glitz. Rather, what enhances a design’s aesthetic is what is taken away. The best designs are typically spare and precisely functional, easy to test and difficult to mess up when changes are required. Moreover, they make you feel that there could be no better way to achieve the product’s assigned functionality. 

When their work is largely invisible, designers are enormously affected by a manager who pores into the details enough to appreciate design quality. When you delve deeply into one of your designer’s work, you may be able to increase the universe of people able to appreciate a lovely piece of work, from one to two. In the eyes of that worker, you just may be transformed from an okay manager to “the boss that I would follow anywhere.” 


“Perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

* 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.


Brussels, MRP part 2
7-Oct-2015 to 8-Oct-2015

Brussels, Mastering Business Analysis
07-Oct-2015 to 08-Oct-2015

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

Rome, Mastering the Requirements Process
19-Oct-2015 to 21-Oct-2015

Rome, Mastering Business Analysis
22-Oct-2015 to 23-Oct-2015

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

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process part 2
2-Nov-2015 to 3-Nov-2015

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

Hilversum, Mastering the Requirements Process
3-Nov-2015 to 5-Nov-2015

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

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
4-Nov-2015 to 6-Nov-2015

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

London, Mastering the Requirements Process
11-Nov-2015 to 13-Nov-2015

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

Wellington, Mastering the Requirements Process
17-Nov-2015 to 19-Nov-2015

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

Melbourne, Mastering the Requirements Process
23-Nov-2015 to 25-Nov-2015

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

Sydney, Mastering the Requirements Process
23-Nov-2015 to 25-Nov-2015

James Robertson teaches the popular Mastering the Requirements Process sponsored by Software Education.

in depth

Suzanne and James Robertson's "Requirements: The Masterclass LiveLessons-Traditional, Agile, Outsourcing". 15+ Hours of Video Instruction. 

Take a look at Tom DeMarco's Risk Management for Dummies article, published in CrossTalk.

Als auf der Welt das Licht Ausging, the German edition of Tom DeMarco's science fiction epic, Andronescu's Paradox, has now been published by Hanser Verlag in Munich.  Translation by Andreas Brandhorst.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tom DeMarco's speculative novel, Andronescu's Paradox is now available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  

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

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