Friday, May 02, 2008

choose the tool last

Yesterday, someone asked me if I could design "an MS Access database" for him.


As I reflected on it, I realized that the problem is not really the particular technology specified - the problem is that the technology was specified at all before the need was described.

If I offered to make you anything you wanted for dinner, would you ask for "something made with a Teflon spatula?" If you did, I'd tell you, "No no no no no. Describe what you want to eat, and let me figure out what I'm going to use to cook it."

My potential client didn't literally mean that he wanted MS Access to be used, he meant that he wants a database with a GUI interface. He thinks of "Access database" as a way to describe that, because it's the only thing he's ever seen used to build products vaguely resembling the one he's imagining. It's nothing more than a limitation of vocabulary and experience.

The problem is that, so often, that kind of pidgin is taken literally. Tools are pre-selected far too early - while the business users are imagining their needs, before the geeks themselves are even involved,

As a result, there are a lot of geeks out there trying to beat eggs with Teflon spatulas.

My story ends happily, however. My potential client got it when I explained this, and we're going to meet so I can find out what he wants. Then - and only then - will we start discussing which tools to use.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You, obviously, have never heard of the Aunt Jamima Treatment.