Friday, May 29, 2009

Designing Correct Solutions

Recently I was asked to describe my experience with solutioning. Fristly, I'm not sure if solutioning is a word, but, assuming that it means 'my experience with creating solutions', I said:

"Each opportunity presents a unique set of challenges and requires a unique approach for arriving at a solution.
I have come to realize that the best solution comes by consulting the team, explaining the solution to stakeholders, prototyping and building on the results, learning from past experiences and never shunning an advice.
Technology plays a role in making a right solution, but is not the driver for a solution. A customer's need should drive a solution.
A good solution is a correct solution. A solution can be enhanced by making it efficient, robust, cost effective and scalable. "

Well, I wrote this, that is why I have the original quote. And I thought, elaborate it in my post. So, instead of repeating what I said, I'll just highlight a thought and expound on it.

Each unique opportunity requires a unique approach
Meaning, one cannot take a cookie cutter approach to any challenge presented, how so much ever it is similar to what he/she has done before. Of course, one can take from one's experience, but each new task should be taken on its own merits, analysed, designed, solved and tested. Identify the challenges, find parallels in your experience and extract what is new and what can be reused, solve the problem as a whole independent problem with a whole independent solution.

Consult with the team
Ever so often, in this every changing and tele-commuting world, with vertical job descriptions, we forget that we are a part of a team. It is a job of a team to provide a solution. An architect, an analyst, a tech lead, a developer, a tester, a project manager, a designer, an information architect etc. etc. comprises a team. These people cannot, should not work in a vacuum. If an architect comes with a design, consult with your tech lead, your PM, your stakeholder before you set it in stone. If a developer comes up with re-usable components, consult with team lead, testers, folks who will maintain the codebase before you refactor. If an IA comes up with a new work flow, consult with who-so-ever it will affect before you put it in your wireframes. Increased communication brings increased clarity, increased productivity, decreases re-works and every team member appreciates the other.

Explain your solution to stakeholders
One of the reasons so many solutions fail to live up to their promise is that the end result is not what you were hired to build. There exists a flurry of agile methodologies that address this problem, be it SCRUM, XP, RUP or their variations. Among many things these methodologies try to solve is to make sure the solution is presented to stakeholders so that they can see the results sooner, and they can control the direction. Which is good. For me, it is as simple as honoring a contract. If you were contracted to build a wall, you build a wall. You do not build a picket fence and deliver at the end with no budget to correct it.

Prototype and build on results
As mentioned earlier, every problem presents a unique set of challenges and require a unique set of solutions. From them are those solutions that one has no experience with, or just a better way of achieving the results. I say, go for it. But prototype first, on a small scale. If it works, then refactor and build. If not, you haven't lost much, rather learned which path not to take in future.

Learning from past experiences
Experience is a valuable asset and one's seniority is defined by his/her experience. In my humble opinion, a lot of repetition does not qualify for equivalent time of experience, rather the exposure to different tasks or variations of a task amount to experience. For example, there is difference in the quality of experience of a person who has installed 100 bath tubs in peoples homes versus a person who has installed 10 bath tubs, but each in a different setting, such as a residential complex, a business, a public facility, a government institution etc. etc.

Having said that, experience is a valuable asset and lessons should be extracted from it, and applied in your work. If you find an urge to try someting fanciful and it cannot be justified within the context of a project, try it on a personal pet project. (of course, I would not say do not try it.. just don't try it on a project at the expense of your business sponsor)

Never shun an advice
Even if it is from a person not in your descipline. Be grateful that someone cares about you and wants to help you achieve your goals. If you disagree, disagree on its merits or demerits, not because 'who is he/she to say this.' All members of a team come from varied backgrounds and have had unique experiences in their past work or jobs, and if someone offers an advice, hear it. This does not mean, you do not excercise your judgment. No. Rather, what I am saying is, use that judgment to analyze the advice. If there is something valueable in it, acknowledge it and use it. If not, then you have heard.

Technology is not a driver of a solution
Rather, the business owner, stakeholders are the driver. One should not forget that someone owns the project and has funded it. They need something out of it which brings some business value to them. That should be the goal in designing a solution. Then, use the technology to achieve it. Technology is a means to the solution, not the goal.

Yes, sometimes you may be bound by technology choices, which are made by someone sitting in a board room somewhere and has paid enormous license fees. And sometimes, you are the boss, you can choose your latest and greatest tool available out there. So, in the first case, make the best of what is available to you. If you want change, get every concerned party on board before changing. Be prepared to explain that the technology change is supprotable, maintainable, affordable and necessary.In the second case, do not get carried away. Use the technology that is just right, affordable and maintainable for your client, even if it means not using your favorite tool that was beta-released a day before.

A good solution is a correct solution
How often do we see emphasis put on the scalablity of the solution, or configurability or how cost efficient the solution is. But we loose sight of the bigger picture, is the solution put in place the 'correct' solution? Yes we can build a scissor that can cut thru 100 pages in 2 seconds and build it very cheap, but can a surgeon finely cut muscle tissue with it in an operation, the reason for builing this scissor?

So, the first thing one should focus on is that the solution is the correct solution for the problem. Once you have a correct solution, you can work day and night to make it most efficient, cost effective, robust, scalable or any other enhancement if you like.


Of course much more could be said, and I'm sure has been said. I welcome critique, corrections or additions.