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Information Anxiety and Solutions

Posted by Tue, 22 Aug 2006 18:15:00 GMT

1 comment Latest by brasten Tue, 22 Aug 2006 20:10:16 GMT

Last week, Allison brought me in a copy of a book that she owns by Richard Saul Wurman. In 1976, Wurman coined the phrase, information architect. (read more)

In his book, Information Anxiety 2, Wurman discusses how we’re overwhelmed by too much information… amongst other related topics.

Allison bookmarked a page for me that discusses the problem with developing solutions without a good understanding of the problem.

“Before any solutions to any undertaking can be developed, a movement must begin to discover its beginning. Understanding the vein of the problem is the course to solving it. The best way to accomplish any endeavor is to determine its essential purpose, its most basic mission. What is the endeavor supposed to accomplish? What is the reason for embarking upon it? This is where the solution lies.”

- Richard Saul Wurman, Information Anxiety 2

Wurman then goes on to suggest, “There are two parts to solving any problem: What you want to accomplish, and how you want to do it. Even the most creative people attach issues by leaping over what they want to do and going on to how they will do it. There are many how’s but only one what.”

There are many how’s but only one what

“You must always ask the question, “What is?” before you ask the question “How to?”“

When Brian and I began rethinking how we were extracting information from our clients, it was important to understand why we felt it was necessary. We’re convinced that the more we can enhance our patterns of dialogue with our clients, the more confidence we’ll have in our approach to building solutions that provide them with that they need, not just what they think they need (want).

Next time a client brings you a list of features for their product, please be sure to ask yourself and your client, “why” the product needs them. What are these hows providing their business and user goals?

Laptop back with more disk space

Posted by Sat, 19 Aug 2006 16:54:00 GMT

1 comment Latest by Ryan Heneise Sat, 19 Aug 2006 22:04:26 GMT

Last week, I killed my laptop (sorta) with the magnet that comes from the Apple iSight. I found it amusing to find that within a few days, a google of isight magnet currently returns my recent post, iSight magnet is teh suck. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only nitwit in the world that has accidently done this. Hopefully… people will learn from my mistake. Spread the word (digg)

I ended up sending my laptop to a company down in California called, TechRestore. They were unable to talk to the harddrive and installed a new 120gb one in my powerbook and sent it back within just a few days. I shipped it on Monday and got it back on Friday morning. If you need a harddrive upgrade and don’t want to attempt to open it the powerbook yourself.. these guys gave me good service.

When my laptop returned, I had a brand new Dell 20” widescreen monitor waiting on my desk to connect to it. :-)

class Goal; has_many :sub_goals; end

Posted by Wed, 16 Aug 2006 17:26:00 GMT

1 comment Latest by Jason Watkins Wed, 16 Aug 2006 23:30:04 GMT

I was up late last night reading, The New Utopians: A study of system design and social change and came across the following quote.

“Problem solving proceeds by erecting goals, detecting differences between present situation and goal, finding in memory or by search tools or processes that are relevant to reducing differences of these particular kinds, and applying these tools or processes. Each problem generates subproblems until we find a subproblem we can solve-for which we already have a program stored in memory. We proceed until, by successive solution of such problems, we eventually achieve our over-all goal-or give up.”[1]

This caught my attention because this presents a very systematic process for achieving goals, but doesn’t clarify how you erect these initial goals in the first place. Our team is putting a lot energy into rethinking how we are requesting information from our clients. Brian Ford has written an article titled, Ethical Software Needs Dialogue, which discusses some of our current approaches to outlining the project goals.

Brian writes, “One approach that we are trying is dialoguing with the client about goals without talking at all about the web site. In other words, for that exploration, the web site doesn’t even exist. Talk about thinking outside the tubes.”

If you have a few minutes… you might read his insightful article.

1 H.A. Simon, The New Science of Management Decision (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1960), p. 27.

Project Illuminatus, an introduction

Posted by Tue, 15 Aug 2006 00:52:00 GMT

4 comments Latest by Alain Tue, 15 Aug 2006 17:06:46 GMT

Due to an unfortunate event last week, this blog entry is a few days late.

Over the next few weeks and months, the PLANET ARGON team will be blogging about one of our big projects that recently started. We needed to get the client to sign off on the blogging project and got the a-okay from their management early last week.

First, some background.

We were contacted by this rather large (enterprise?) company around the time that we went to RailsConf. When we got back, I began talking with our primary point of contact about their project, which sounded like a fairly big challenge and the sales process took a few weeks to come to an agreement on the next steps. Once they were finished interviewing a few other potential firms, we got the go-ahead that we should proceed with an ITER-ZERO, which I outlined a few months ago in part one of, The Art of Delivery.

ITER-ZERO was essentially a two-day trip for Brian and I to Washington DC (pictures) to interview the client and some of their existing users (domain experts), establish the protocol and channels for communication between them (the client) and our team, and work on identifying the core goals of their product that we’ll be developing with them. They have an existing product that they’ve been selling to customers for over ten years and the product that we’ll be developing will be the next generation of this software. The new product is replacing a desktop application that is only runs on Windows. The application that we’re currently working has a technical requirement that is needs to run on any operating system with a modern web browser, including some of the newer phones that have Opera mini installed! As you can see, we have our work cut out for us… :-)

During our meetings, we agreed that while their final product name is going through their marketing process, that we should have a playful project name to refer to. Our primary contact at the firm suggested, Project Illuminatus[1]. He’s a bit of a conspiracy theory nut… and it sounded fun… so we agreed to that. :-)

If I recall, Brian and I stayed up past 2am (the time zone change does that to you…) working on structuring the project wiki (instiki) to document the dialogue that occurred on our first day in DC. This provided us with a solid plan for how we wanted to focus our attention to identifying the goals that we wanted to collaborate on with the client to build an innovative and simple to define solution. Simple solutions emerge from even complex goals when you can clarify them using simple and intelligible language.

In this great blog interview, Stiff asked several famous developers the following question, “What do you think makes some programmers 10 or 100 times more productive than others?”

David Heinemeir Hannsson responded with, “The ability to restate hard problems as easy ones.”

On day two, we showed their team the wiki and explained how they could collaborate with us there. If they had ideas and new goals identified, they had a place to store those. It’s vital that your attention is on the scope of the work that needs to be investigated. We try not to solve all of the problems too quickly… it’d be naive of us to think that we could. Products evolve and so must their requirements.

I’m not going to go into everything that went on here at the moment, perhaps Brian will fill us in on some of this.

When we got back to Portland, Brian and I began meeting with Allison Beckwith, our Creative Director, to outline one of the most complex pieces of the system. As a team, we decided that this is what we need to focus more of our immediate attention to. In the their previous application, there was approximately five different modules that did something very similar, but just slightly different enough for their original developers to just build separate interfaces, which were not consistent and difficult to use for someone new to the application. We want to consolidate this into one new solution that focuses on how the users will be using the system… not just the tasks that they are fulfilling. This is why we spend so much time thinking about the goals that the users have… not what they have to do.

Oh yeah… one of the non-functional requirements?

“The product shall be easy to use on the first attempt by a member of the general public without training.”[2]

About a week later, we agreed on what work would be performed during ITER-001 (iteration one), which included paper prototyping and a few rounds wireframe mockups for this one major component of the application. I’ll let Allison Beckwith (yes! she started a blog) fill you in on this when she gets some time to outline her process for doing this.

Stay tuned…

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illuminatus

2 copied directly from Mastering the Requirements Process, 2nd edition. It works.. and does it need to be reestated any simpler than that?

iSight magnet is teh suck

Posted by Fri, 11 Aug 2006 05:41:00 GMT

12 comments Latest by null Wed, 23 Aug 2006 12:04:11 GMT

We picked up an iSight for those of us in the office who have older powerbooks without a builtin webcam… and I was playing with the magnet that came with it and somehow didn’t think twice about setting it down on my laptop… loud noise… 2 seconds later…. black screen!

...yeah… I lost a hard drive.

Fun times. :-)

UPDATE

...the magnet is now in the garbage. TAKE THAT!

UPDATE #2

I’m not the only person that this happened to…

It’s interesting to hear so many people say, “It takes a really powerful magnet to destroy a hard drive. I doubt that happend in your case. That magnet is not strong enough.”

...perhaps it is.

Rails and Mongrel go to the Pound

Posted by Wed, 09 Aug 2006 00:35:00 GMT

2 comments Latest by Robby Russell Wed, 09 Aug 2006 02:31:13 GMT

We’ve been encouraging our Rails hosting customers to give Pound and Mongrel a try for deploying their Ruby on Rails applications. David Gibbons has been adding some recipes for doing this on the PLANET ARGON Documentation Project

Check out:

...and today David posted an article on his blog titled, Why you need multiple mongrel instances with rails!

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