by Steven J. Owens (unless otherwise attributed)

Lemme tell you a little anecdote. Many moons ago, my then-boss, a very office-politically savvy and hands-off macro-manager kinda guy, came to me at 6pm the day before a big 9am meeting and said "How you feeling about the meeting with the business folk tomorrow?"

And I said, "Well, not very comfortable, I've been told this week's meeting is going to be big and important, there're going to be some important people there this time, and that they have all these great expectations of some sort. But I'm not sure what they're expecting me to produce, and I don't have a sort of partially functioning system to show them yet."

So he says, "well, explain to me where we are?"

And I say, "Well, I have the design pretty well laid out."

And he says, "Explain it to me."

And I talk for about twenty to thirty minutes, at one point sketching a little diagram of the different programs (java servlets & java RMI servers, message queues, mainframe services I'm talking to via the message queues, etc) and how they communicate and the sequence of events.

And he says, "This is great, this is terrific, you really have a handle on this. Okay, here's what I want you to do. Make up a really spiffy power point version of this diagram, and a step-by-step explanation of how the different pieces talk to each other, how they interact, and hand it out at the meeting tomorrow."

Which I did. Well, I convinced him to let me do the first draft in pen, I hate Powerpoint and Visio is better but massive overkill for a diagram like this, drowning in the options, so I got a flowchart package that's sort of between the two now.

And it bowled the business folks over.

Now, they probably only understood a fraction of what I told them, and probably retained even less than that fraction by the time they got out the door. But the key point is that I created something tangible to show them what the past several weeks of my time had produced.

I also gave them a clear demonstration of my understanding of both the problem and the solution, and my ability to describe them in a comprehensible, systematic, methodical fashion.

This is partially a trust issue, yes, and partially simply their desire to have some understanding of what's going on, and partially a political issue (visibility of what I did). But a big part of understanding and communicating as a technical person dealing with non-technical people is that they are drowning in uncertainty.

You cannot give them absolute certainty.

However, you can at least draw lines around the uncertainty, you can sort out the certain and uncertain elements, guestimate the impact of them, organize the overall picture.

See the second half of bonus plans for thoughts on one half-decent approach to doing this.

See original (unformatted) article


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