February 2014

Solving The Unsolvable In 3 Steps

Legend tells us that Alexander the Great visited the city of Gordia, in asia minor, before he conquered most of the known world. The shrine in the city held an oxcart that was fastened to a pole using an intricate knot with no loose ends. It had been prophesied that the one who could solve this Gordian knot would become the king of the world. The Alexander solution to the problem of the Gordian knot has become a timeless metaphor for the solution of intractable problems. It was, according to himself, his greatest victory.

 

There are actually two different solutions to the Gordian knot with somewhat different implications. Aristobulus tells us that Alexander removed the pole from the oxcart and thereby exposed the loose end of the knot. This implies that sometimes, the way forwards is to look for a clever shortcuts that cut through all the difficult steps. The other account, the classical one, from Plutarch tells us that Alexander used his sword and cut the knot in two. This would invite us to look for an elegant out of the box solution, simple and resolute or perhaps even a brute force solution. The key to either of these solutions is to look at the problem from a new perspective or to redefine the goal.

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Don’t Kill The Deal By Pursuing “The Perfect Contract”

I am sure we have all experienced that one deal that was done on a handshake, and ultimately became the deal “from hell” that turned into a money pit. Perhaps it was as simple as a customer signing your proposal that might have the innocuous wording of “we strive to make our customers happy,” yet it turns into “scope creep” (because the customer never became happy) and you wind up spending more time, effort and resources than what you were paid (if you were paid at all). Many of us have also experienced a deal making process that included so many provisions for every possible scenario, that crafting the agreement became an obstacle to getting the deal done.

So, what do you do? Do you try to have a 30-page contract that contemplates every terrible scenario (and risk scaring off your customers with an over-reaching agreement) or do you leave out critical issues and risk that an agreement casually entered into will cost you more than it is worth? Sometimes, well thought out agreements of only a few pages can do the trick; addressing the critical needs of both parties and outlining a process for revision that works for all.

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Software Quality

There’s an old joke in the software business that states, “In the past 40 years, we’ve had two years of experience twenty times.”  Unfortunately, this joke has more truth to it than most of us would care to admit.  Many programmers are under the mistaken impression that the problems that they’re facing are new and haven’t been seen before and/or successfully solved.

 

None of this would be very important if the overall quality of the software we use was not horrible.  If software quality is measured by its reliability (doesn’t crash), being free of errors (bugs), and ease of use, we have been moving backwards.  This, coupled with the fact that software plays an ever increasing role in every aspect of our lives, means that we are depending more and more on things that are getting less and less workable.

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