Rocks into Gold: Part 4

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Summary:
This short book by Clarke Ching is a "biztech" parable for software developers who want to survive—and then thrive—through the credit crunch. We have republished the book in a four-part-series. In part four, our characters pitch Bob's plan to MegaCorp. But will business politics get in the way of a good idea? Follow the story as our characters fight to keep their jobs by implementing creative business ideas and management skills taken from agile development.

Will They Buy It?
Bob arrived at work the following morning, slightly hung over, but thrilled with himself. He spied the beekeeping book sitting in its cardboard wrapping, but he ignored it. Today, he had bigger fish to fry. He went straight to the conference room, where Sam was waiting for him.

Bob reported that his meeting had gone well with Peter. Sam suggested they go straight to Gwendolyn and make their proposal. Bob hesitated to mention the potential problem with the lost change-control revenue, but he wasn't good at keeping secrets, so he spilled the beans. Sam understood the problem immediately. She said that the best they could do was to be completely open with Gwendolyn, but to hold off on mentioning it until Gwendolyn understood the big picture.

They popped by Gwendolyn's desk, but she wasn't there. They left a note and went back to their desks. Bob and Sam used the time to play around with his spreadsheet.

Two frustrating hours later, Bob spied Gwendolyn coming through the stairwell door. Soon, the three of them were in the conference room scratching out numbers on the whiteboard. "I can sell this," Gwendolyn said. "You two have almost certainly just saved a load of jobs—both here and at MegaCorp."

She picked up her handbag and made to leave, but Bob stopped her and told her about Peter's plans to use the last mini project to handle change requests.

"A change pool?" Gwendolyn said. "Ingenious! So, what you're saying is that not only do MegaCorp earn more money than they ever expected to, but they also get to change FBU and make it a better product and at the same time, remove the biggest source of friction between us?"

Bob was confused. Didn't she understand the implications of what he had said? "But, that means we will finish the project much earlier, and we can't charge MegaCorp for the change requests," Bob said.

"You are right," Gwendolyn said. "With the way we currently sell our services, that's a benefit for them and a risk for us. Equally, MegaCorp could, if they wanted to, stop the whole project after the first release. But, don't worry about such things, my friend. MegaCorp have so much to gain by working this way that they're not going to haggle price with us. What you two have here is a truly compelling offer. I'm not going to sell them man-days at a competitive daily rate. I'm going to sell them the opportunity to make bucketloads more money."

She grabbed her handbag and said, "Good work, Sam. Good work, Bob. I'll let you know what happens." She dashed out of the conference room. Bob and Sam looked at each other, shrugged, and went back to their work.

Long-Term Benefits
One week later, Bob was sitting at his desk helping one of the younger developers with some tricky code when Eugene "Killer" Watt, the founder and chairman of KillerWattSoftware, stopped by his desk. Bob had worked with Eugene since the early days, but a lot had changed since then and they didn't see so much of each other any more.

Eugene asked the young programmer to excuse them and asked Bob to take a walk with him. He didn't look happy. As soon as they were outside the building and out of earshot of Bob's colleagues, Eugene said, "MegaCorp didn't greet Gwendolyn and my offer with quite the open arms we were expecting. Truth be known, they were downright hostile about it. Their marketing team said that they simply didn't have enough staff to handle three extra FBU releases over the next year. Their customer support director said that their phones went crazy whenever they released a new product and, like the marketing folk, he wasn't set up to handle the extra call volumes. And, it turns out that your friend Peter Prince wasn't quite as keen on the idea once he'd sobered up. He was concerned about the extra coding work required to ensure that customers upgraded smoothly between releases."

"But ..." Bob said, then stopped. He looked down at the pavement and kept walking, not knowing what to say to Eugene. Sure, MegaCorp and KillerWattSoftware's developers would have to do some extra coding work to handle the multiple upgrades, but it wasn't that much relative to the size of the entire project, and the time saved from dropping the low-priority features would more than compensate. He also knew that Sam and Peter's manager would need to do a little extra upfront planning and coordinating, but Sam had told him that she wasn't stressed about it, so Bob wasn't worried about the technical implications.

Bob's problem was that he had no solution to the marketing and customer service implications. In fact, he'd never even thought about them.

About the author

Clarke Ching's picture Clarke Ching

An independent consultant and regular columnist on StickyMinds.com, Clarke Ching is a passionate advocate of agile software development and a chairman of the AgileScotland special interest group. He is the author of the book Rolling Rocks Downhill, in which he demonstrates how to use lean, quality, and agile techniques to make your projects more productive and predictable. Read more about Clarke's work at www.clarkeching.com.

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