The team continued to develop a prototype despite orders not to • The Register


Who me ? We all want our software users to be satisfied, but how far would you go to meet that requirement? For a Register drive, maybe a bit too far. Welcome to Who, Me?

“Harry” (not his name for reasons that will become clear) worked as a contractor and did on-site development. His team had come up with a nifty prototype for a new process, and users absolutely loved it. The management were also impressed, but Harry and co. would fail to develop a production version. This task would fall to a large subcontractor.

While the Big Guns worked on a production version, Harry and his team kept users happy by polishing the prototype. Slow bits have been redesigned. The work pieces have been polished. User comments have been taken into account. The usual sort of thing.

It went on for a few years until “the big guns told us to stop and freeze construction,” Harry said. “They had given the job to a Big Gun contractor (you know the shortlist) and he was moving with all the speed and user appeal of a striking slug.”

At each meeting, users kept adding to the list of requirements and the contractor couldn’t keep up. The production beta was in a horrible state and users refused to go near it. “Could we please at least give them a chance?” was the plea.

Management conceded and said it was forbidden to release new features. It would be a dismissal offence. The changes had to stop.

Except Harry’s prototype was still rolling in the background. “We had a new release nearing completion,” he said, “including deep productivity features that appealed to users, as well as revised branding, as the feature was now way beyond the concept. original.”

“Could we just deploy that?” Harry wondered. The bosses were informed of very slight untruths: “It was purely a maintenance release and had no new features, honestly!”

“Userland pushed, the management joined. Deployment!”

Except once logged in, it was clear that this was much more than a maintenance release. “The overhauled branding involved a total redesign of the landing pad,” admitted Harry, “it looked like we had grafted onto a whole new product.”

It didn’t take long for the first angry email from management to arrive. Of course, users can be trusted to keep quiet about fulfilling their wishes. But if someone older dived deeper, the upgrades would be revealed and pink slips would be issued.

The road to dismissal is paved with good intentions.

What should Harry do? The answer was to double down. One of his many hats was that of a technical author, and he had helped create an internal wiki where staff and contractors were encouraged to post. He had become very popular. Could this also save Harry’s bacon?

“I have now noticed that in his anger the manager forgot to BCC everyone and all the anonymous pointy-haired managers who had embarrassed us over the years were revealed in all their sordid glory,” Harry said.

“I thought it might take one of them 10 minutes to go through it and check their facts before I answer. That was all I had left. So I pressed Reply to all and I started typing.”

Tappity-tap: The old UI had started to crash. The new one was just a cosmetic makeover. Everything was in the Wiki. Send.

Harry went to the system page in the Wiki and pressed Edit. No more tappity-tapping: a longer version of the email. Copy and paste a list of maintenance fixes. Download the new logo. Pop into the help manual overview. To safeguard. Ended.

He barely had time for a well-deserved coffee when the first response landed in his inbox. A manager had indeed taken a look at the wiki page: “Yes, it’s true”, replied the answer, “it’s just a cosmetic thing, I checked the wiki and it is pretty clear about that. We can all breathe and go back to work.”

Luckily no one thought to check the change history, huh?

After releasing the latest update, Harry’s team had nothing left to do and they went their separate ways, “but at least we still had jobs to do”.

But what about the production system? “It was always ridiculously expensive and unusable,” Harry recalls. “Other newer systems have taken over as needs have changed.”

In an effort to push users over the line, prototype accounts were disabled “but that just meant the quality of the business had plummeted”.

There would still be years of pain before the system was finally decommissioned and the bits of Harry’s team prototype that weren’t obsolete were resurrected.

“It’s a warm feeling when your prototype lash-up outlasts the production tool,” he concluded.

Have you ever tried to help your users, but found yourself having to cover your tracks when management took offense at your helpfulness? Or write a temporary piece of code that ended up becoming too permanent? Confess everything with an e-mail to Who, Me? ®


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