Monday, February 18, 2013

Getting Input, But Not The Wrong Kind

One of the things that I noticed a while back is that quite often it seems impossible to get others to provide their input to a design or document.  Nobody wants to respond to your questions, or doesn't have the time, etc.

So I started presenting every document or design as a strawman - I made sure to put in things that I thought good but controversial into every section.  Then I sent it out for review as version 0.1.

The controversial ideas would galvanize the reviewers to respond with their better ideas.  It seems that while few will stick their necks out to propose solutions, almost everyone is comfortable with criticizing someone else's solution.  It seems to allow everyone to assume their preferred role in the organization - wise sage, gadfly, elder statesman, or just plain old curmudgeon - without risk.  It's not their idea that's being looked at, and if their input is ignored, they are free from blame, but if the idea is a success, they contributed to the discussion, and therefore helped bring it to market!

Curiously, there is a counterpoint to this situation - sometimes you have a manager/PM/customer who cannot allow a document to pass by without making some changes.  I'm not the only one to notice this, not by far.  And the solution is exactly as described - make some very specific things either wrong or superfluous, and let the manager/PM/customer tell you to change them. 

A corollary to this happened to me at my first job.  We had a group of senior customer executives visiting to see our initial demo of the product.  We showed them what we had - a mockup running on a terminal, and then they were shown the various other bit s of technology that were being assembled into the final product.  Now, this product had some very specific color-coding of icons on the UI, and we were already planning on making the color specifications loadable from a configuration, to allow for the differences in the color monitors of that time, yet we had the whole group of executives staring at a screensaver trying to point out some specific colors that specific icons needed to be.  It was something that was best dealt with in a document, but they felt the need to impress us (or each other) with their acumen at determining between close shades of magenta.

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