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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Working with people who are not so responsive as developers or testers ..

It can really test the patience of a team when they work with people who do not seem to follow the same guidelines, processes and schedules as the rest of the team does. It seems a bit odd though. The schedule is the most important item of a software development project, with a lot of effort going towards determining whether the team is following the schedule or not, and if there are any slippages from the schedule, it can imperil the success of a project. If there are slippages of the schedule, then it would take a lot of effort from the project manager and other managers and senior members of the team to get the project back on track. In such a case, it seems strange that there can be members of the extended team who are not so committed to the schedule (actually, it is not right to say that they are not committed to the project, it is just that it can be a challenge to get them to follow the details of the schedule).
Who are these members of the extended team ? Well, let me lay out a few candidates (and this does not mean that every one of these roles will not follow the details of the schedule, but I do know many people who were in such roles with whom it was a challenge to get them to follow the schedule) - these are typically the more creative people of the team - in some cases, the Product Manager; in more cases, the UI Designer or the Experience Designer; and even in other cases, some of the more senior members of the development team.
Does this really happen ? Well, yes, it happens like this all the time. Let me layout some examples - during the course of a project schedule, there is an initial time period when the requirements need to be defined by the Product Manager (with a certain detail inherent in these requirements, a level of requirements that is enough for the workflow designer and the development team to do a certain level of estimation), and more often than not, unless I, as the Program Manager would do a lot of reminder to the Product Manager, there would always be some amount of delay, or the requirements that were available were not of enough detail. As a result, by a couple of cycles, we had actually started giving a buffer so that after all the urging, there would be time to do a couple of cycle of the requirements. Given that the Product Manager is also typically a senior person, we did not try any other method of ensuring that they finished their work by the scheduled time; instead we added a buffer of around a week in the overall schedule.
The bigger problem was when we were dealing with the experience designer / UI designer. The interaction with this person was on a regular basis, for more than 70% of features (given that most of the features needed some kind of UI work, or needing some kind of workflow optimization). Hence, it was not only the overall schedule, but also the schedule for each feature that needed dates and details for work supposed to be done by the UI designer. The work done by the designer followed in a logical order to the requirements and was needed for the development team to do their work, and hence any delays in this work would cause a ripple effect all down the schedule. However, in a clear case of Murphy's Law, the chances of there being a delay from the designer end was high (not always, but in most cases, there would be something pending).
How do you ensure that the work done by the designer was on time ? Well, there are no clear ways (atleast nothing that was 100% successful), but here are some steps:
- Layout a clear schedule for when the delivery from the designer is expected, including dates for interim deliveries, review times, and final deliveries.
- If the designer does not agree with the dates that you would have started out with, and considers them too aggressive, then you need to do a discussion. Don't try to force any dates on the designer from your end, make sure that dates are negotiated.
- Setup a weekly telecon with the designer, and make sure that you are reminding them of the dates that are due, and also find out from them whether they are on track or not. If wildly out of track, then you might need to modify your dates to some degree, and make sure that the team knows about.
- If there is a manager from the designer end who is looking at this, then make sure that they are also in the loop for the work done.
- Finally cross your fingers and hope that this is not the schedule where the designer is going to delay their deliveries.

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