Tragic Magic

I was leading the dream project.  We were working with technology we understood well; we were truly experts.  Requirements were bounded.  The architecture was straightforward.  I took the time to author a comprehensive high level design document, including architectural flow diagrams and interconnect diagrams, communication state models and a well thought out service layer.  We finalized (and documented) the requirements.  We had a very capable CASE tool, which we used to specify code structure charts. 

I shared a large office with two other technical leads.  The three of us would crack jokes all the time, but, our work came first.  We were simply very comfortable working together on our project and we knew how to play off each other's strengths.  To make ourselves more comfortable we started bringing in bits of our home life into our office space.  We brought in lamps, chairs, cushions.  We talked about getting a couch but we nixed that idea because the office space was too small.  We kept a bag of fresh apricots for ourselves and our visitors.

We established a very specific coding style.  We did code walkthroughs.  We recognized we were short one or two programmers so we brought in "rent-a-coders".  They complained a bit because they were not used to such stringent practices, where the code structure was mapped and kept in a binder.  They were also cranky about the diligence we exercised with the coding style.  However,  I was paying the bill so they followed my direction.

We delivered our software for System Level testing.  Absolutely no defects were found during testing.  Or beyond.  Management was stunned.  They could not understand how our project team pulled this off.  Around us, several projects were in deep trouble.  Ours, an interface, to an external system worked magnificently.

Management was compelled to investigate our success.  They could have concluded it was due to the rigor of the high level design we did up front.  Or the binder of detailed design documentation, including pseudocode.  Or the demonstrated expertise the team already had with communications.  Or the iron fist we used to lead our consulants.  Or the team camaraderie.

So, what was it that set us apart from our peers?  The next week, they took an action to improve morale and productivity,  Management circulated an office supply catalog throughout the company.  On the catalog cover was a distribution list along with a hand written note, "Feel free to select any lamp from this catalog for your desk".  Apparently, the magic was in the lamps.