Putting Code Together Since 1987

Posts Tagged ‘project management’

The Wicked Problem

In Design, Web Development on January 10, 2008 at 5:41 pm

I was reading through some project management methodology just now (yay! My life is full of joy at last!) and came across the phrase “The Wicked Problem” in this line on Wikipedia:

Steve McConnell in Code Complete (a book which criticizes the widespread use of the waterfall model) refers to design as a “wicked problem” – a problem whose requirements and limitations cannot be entirely known before completion. The implication is that it is impossible to get one phase of software development “perfected” before time is spent in “reconnaissance” working out exactly where and what the big problems are.

It’s worth following the link.

I think software and design processes often end up trapped within this circle where nothing’s ever perfect. The iPhone isn’t perfect, for example – it may be ever so pretty, but it’s quite rubbish at Bluetooth connectivity, for example, or sending texts. In fact, it’s rubbish at a lot of things. One of its smartphone rivals, the N95, has a habit of crashing in certain situations, and flattening its battery in two hours because it’s furiously running an application in the background.

Same with websites. Our company site, Interconnect IT, will never ever, in my opinion, be perfect. Unless we simply devoted all our energies to that site – but then we’d have no time to working on client projects. We’re still a three man company, so we can’t have a £200k site. But we can be clever and cover 95% of the requirements.

With client sites it’s even trickier – we have to interpret a clients’ requirements, write them down, and send them back in a proposal with a rough mock-up, pricing and structure. They’ll read it quickly and usually accept. But once started they’ll look at the design, try it out, and realise that actually, the front page should have a simpler message. That may mean a restructuring. A week later, someone may point out that the colours they preferred have negative connotations in certain cultures.

All these require changes, sometimes at a late stage, and sometimes involving a lot of work. At some point, someone has to simply say – “OK, that’s good enough!”

Other clients, however, quite like the waterfall method. We have forms for certain business sectors, with consistent requirements, where they simply tick off what they want and like, choose an off-the-shelf design, and a couple of weeks later we deliver the website – all loaded up and everything. They then sign-off, or they ask for some revisions – images changed, copy edited and so on. It’s particularly suited where a small and busy firm needs a website, but it’s not really crucial to their business – it simply provides a service to people who already know them. Dentists, for example.