28 January 2010


I'm an engineer.

I do engineering and program management. That means I spend a lot of time in design discussions, technical interchange meetings, and test and evaluation procedures. The days can be hectic at times, and sometimes there's even a sense of urgency, but generally we're never talking about timelines measured in minutes or hours. It's always months & years.

Last week, I had a rare opportunity to work on an operations floor for a few days, supporting relief efforts in Haiti. The pace was jarringly fast, coming as I do from an engineering background. I'm a big advocate of "Fast" development, but it took me a while to get used to the speed of ops. To be honest, I'm not sure I ever did get used to it. Maybe I would if I did it more frequently.

The point is that it's important to spend time with the users, to understand their current capabilities and any shortfalls which engineers could/should address. It's something I've advocated for a while, but frankly it's been a few years since I've been able to do something as hands-on as this. The experience just reiterated for me how important it is to field reasonable capabilities quickly, and not make the users wait endless years while engineers perfect the design of systems for an environment we don't understand.

I remember being told once that "program managers don't need to talk to the customer" (I talked with the customer anyway). I've had trips cancelled because a Higher Up didn't think we needed to send an engineer to visit the users (so I used the phone instead). In my experience, there's nothing that can compare to spending time with the end user, breathing their dust and seeing what their capabilities and shortcomings actually are.

So, my advice to all you Rogue Project Leaders - make sure you spend time in the field.

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