|Innovation and Turmoil
|How do you keep from going crazy while developing a new project? Also, how do you reduce the risk of failure! This page offers some answers to these questions. The original version of this article was published in the Journal of Systems Management in December of 1987. New comments are bold and italics.
Nature of the Beast
- The World Changes!
- The Champion Leaves
- Users Learn More
- Large Number of Variables
What Can You Do
- Never, Never lose sight of the ultimate goal!
- Do something!
- Don't try to be perfect
- Write it down.
- Visit users often.
- Prototype where possible (involve hands on users asap)
- Ask for help or advice.
- Always go home at night with a success.
- Leave the project at work.
- Keep learning.
Innovation and Turmoil
By William W. Myers, CSP
Journal of Systems Management,
December of 1987
Designing and implementing new systems should follow
an orderly process. After all, we now have many tools that help
the systems analyst to design and manage projects. However, one
of our trainees who was working on her first new system said "Do
all new systems have so many changes during development? I always
feel so confused." (Her training program was so much more
orderly.) My answer was "yes," but I could not explain
why that was true. In fact, for every new system that I designed,
a time came when I wondered if things would ever come together.This was a startling revelation. Was this caused by sloppily
used design tools and poor programming, or was it due to the
nature of systems?
All news systems are inventions. Even if they are
replacing existing systems, they still use new hardware, software,
or programming techniques. New systems must be much more productive,
provide more information or do more work. Procedures will be
changed to meet new user needs. All of this requires innovation.
Nature of Systems Work
Innovation means change. It also means creating
something that did not exist before. It is up to the project
leader to foresee as many of these changes as possible and plan
for them. Even with the best of planning, there will be some
disorder and, at times, some confusion.
There are reasons for this:
- The world changes!Things that have nothing directly to do with the project change.The company may be purchased by another company, laws may change,
management could change, etc. Of course, the chances of these
things happening are somewhat remote but they are not under the
control of the analyst.
- The champion leaves!All projects need champions --a person in the user community
that has a personal interest in seeing that it is successful.Then this person is no longer connected with the project , the
project suffers. At this point, someone on the project team must
carry on until a new champion can be found. Hopefully, the project
has more than one champion on the user side.
- The users learn more.The number of changes to the original design will increase as
the users become more knowledgeable. They will see things that
they want to change slightly. They will also see many new things
that can be done. The project leader must be very careful here.
If a lot of new items are added to the project, the project may
never be implemented.
- Large number of variables.As the project progresses, a person is introduced to a large
number of new variables. First of all, you must learn the user's
jargon. Familiar words may have a whole new meaning. Databases
may have hundreds of even thousands of fields. There are personal
adjustments for both you and the users. You may be working with
a lot of new people, both in the user community and on the project
team. The environment itself is probably new to you. It's no
wonder things are confusing.
What Can One Do?
This sounds terrible, but there are things that one
can do to relieve stress and reduce confusion. This is true for
analysts, project leaders and programmer trainees.
- Never, Never lose sight of the ultimate goal!Become obsessed. Make sure that everything that you do moves
you one step closer to the goal. However, don't be discouraged
if something fails the first time. Just learn from it and try
something else. After all, only the last test counts (the one
that works and will be used).
- Do something! Produce
tangible results as soon as possible, even if it is only one data
flow diagram or one working screen in a program. There is a time
to stop talking and to start producing.
- Don't try to be perfect.Once you have completed a task, show it to the users, and make
the requested adjustments, then stop. Perfection is not necessary,
assuming that you have already done an excellent job (shoddy work
is never excusable).
- Write it down. Document.Keep a notebook of all of your ideas. Include notes from meetings,
conversations with friends. Write down anything remotely applicable
to the project. This is over and above any normal documentation
that you would do for the project.
- Visit users often.Go to their work-place. Keep them informed at every step in
the project. You will both develop confidence as you become accustomed
to each other. Be aware of the environment during these visits.It may change. Once, in a manufacturing operation, a conveyor
line was installed between the operators and the spot where I
planned to put terminals. It would have been both expensive and
embarrassing to have made this discovery after the terminals have
- Prototype where possible.Prototyping can help you to work through the logistics of a program
or system. It works well even if the system is being installed
on another machine without the prototyping language.
- Ask for help or advice.Ask an expert if there is one. If not, explain what you are
doing to someone with a general background in the subject. Sometimes,
you will find your own solutions by explaining your problem to
someone else. This organizes your thoughts. However, make sure
that you have tried some tangible solutions on your own first.Don't become a pest.
- Always go home at night with a success.Set one or two intermediate goals daily that can be met if you
exert some effort. You will feel better about yourself and your
project after a series of small victories. It is surprising how
much can be accomplished in a short period of time by using this
- Leave the project at work.If you take things home, they will hang over you like a cloud
and you will feel guilty if you don't work on it. That causes
burnout. Besides, the subconscious mind can work on problems
much better if you are thinking about something else. Frequently,
the solution to a problem will be obvious the next day.
- Keep learning. Read
technical journals, even if only the advertisements. Study things
that are generally related to the user's areas of interest. For
example, if you work for an insurance company, study insurance,
how it is created, marketed, financed, managed, etc. The knowledge
may not be directly useful on the current project, but it will
be useful sometime in the work future. However, do this on your
own time. Doing it at work can be another form of procrastination.
These are steps that an individual can personally
take to reduce his/her own state of confusion and frustration.However, life becomes better for the project team as a whole
as the project team learns more. More knowledge of the user's
area and the technical side provides a firmer based to work from.Even though the outside environment is constantly changing, the
broader knowledge base provides the needed stability. The team
will develop confidence as this base grows and the team will handle
changes faster and easier.
Disorder and confusion accompany any new undertaking,
be it a college research paper or development of a state-wide
communication network. It is not your fault Follow the steps
outlined here and things will work out all right.
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©1997 William W. Myers All rights reserved.-->
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