A Commonplace

What is a commonplace?



To be fair to Pharaoh

So the last couple of posts I've been talking about "Bricks without straw" problems.

And then last night I was reading this book "How to Write Like Tolstoy" by Richard Cohen. And found in it, what I felt was a stinging rebuke.

Cohen talks about "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck and says that, for him, it misses out on being a great book because it doesn't include the point of view of the bosses, only the point of view of the poor immigrants to California who are fleeing the dustbowl.

I've never read the Grapes of Wrath, and don't know if this is a fair criticism, but it got me thinking about the book that I'm trying to write.

It especially got me thinking about "Bricks without straw" problems and wondering to what degree I've been ignoring Paraoh's point of view.

Remember, to start out being fair to Paraoh, it's very unlikely that whoever it is who's commissioning your project deliberately wants it to fail (of course, if they do, it would be great - although probably very trick - to find that out). What's far more likely is that there is a contradiction that, for some reason the Pharaoh is not managing very well.

Here's how I used to think that "Bricks without straw" problems, should be handled.

I used to think that the contradiction should be pointed out to Pharaoh in the starkest terms possible. And this would somehow sting them into action. Sometimes this works. But it's a very crude approach.

Lack of skills

Sometimes Pharaoh just doesn't know how to get straw. He might be new to his organisation. He might not have the necessary clout to get to the front of the straw queue. If the Pharoah doesn't have the skills, then it's up to the project manager and the development team, with his permission, to find out who, in his organisation does have the skills. How have others in his organisation solved this problem.

Hidden or unconsidered trade-off

You developers aren't being allowed to develop on their own machines, because security is paramount. That's what Pharaoh thinks. But Pharaoh hasn't either really understood that this is a trade-off, and so, perhaps on the advice of some of his lieutenants has come down to hard on a partical absolute point on the security/usability continuum.

Similarly, lack of environments for development, testing and release might be the result of hidden, or unconsidered trade-off between the cost of environments and the cost of not having the environments.

Hidden imperative

There might be some powerful organisational reason why you can't have the thing that you need.

Here's another way of thinking about this.

If your project has a bricks without straw problem, you don't understand the problem. You don't know if it's a problem of the Pharoah not understanding what you need to get the job done, or a problem of you not understanding the other constraints that the Pharaoh is under.

If you think you have a bricks without straw problem, you need to know more about the problem.