Month: <span>December 2007</span>

I’m currently pondering a proposal, suggesting to our Dev team that we write the user documentation first, and then use that as the basis of what the product should deliver.

This wouldn’t work for everyone but given that an XP environment encourages little (well, less) documentation than a more traditional ISO style project, then having a draft of the user documentation would be beneficial in many ways:

  1. Early design thoughts are often lost as they are translated into the stories used to develop the functionality. Fleshing these out into more fully formed documentation would better capture that information, and focus it on the user.
  2. Earlier consideration of the “what ifs” will likely come of this, pushing thoughts and discussions out into areas that the documentation needs to cover but which might not be considered as they might not be part of the software.
  3. Focussing on the final product, rather than just the next piece of functionality, should make the big picture easier to see, allowing the developers to better understand WHY they are working on a particular piece of functionality.
  4. Testing/QA can use the documentation to validate the software that is being produced. If it doesn’t match the documentation, it’s wrong.
  5. Anyone coming late to the team can get up to speed much quicker.

I’m still thinking this through, and by pushing on with the documentation, sometimes even striding ahead of development, the technical author can help with the finer details of the implementation, running through some of the scenarios (or edge cases, or “unhappy path trails” depending on your lexicon) before they have been approached by development, blazing a trail for them to follow. After all, we spend a lot of our time considering things the readers of our documentation are likely to ask, if the answers need to come through the software then what better way to develop the solution?

All of this would, of course, be in close consultation with the development team but I think it might be an interesting experiment to try.

Anyone got any thoughts? Pros? Cons??

Update: I posted about this on the TechWR mailing list, and Andrew Warren pointed me at his previous response on this topic. Interesting.

Work

Nearing the end of a project is always a stressful time. Regardless of the best plans, contingency and prayers, things always end up tight at this point. That’s when the stress kicks in.

I actually revel in this kind of work, doing my best stuff under pressure, with no time to ponder I make decisions with conviction and plough onwards. There is also a subtle effect on other areas.

I’m usually working long hours at this point, and so end up a little run-down, narky and tired. Emotions of all kinds are quick to the surface and over the years I’ve started to focus more on them than any impending doom scenarios that are building elsewhere. I should point out that I work in the software industry so, in most cases, missing a deadline is bad for business but no-one loses a life, it’s not the end of the world, so whilst I do get stressed there is a point where I realise I’m getting stressed and I just… well… stop getting stressed. Hard to explain and it took some amount of time to get it sorted in my head.

Anyway, whilst I’m in this zone I try and focus on the positives and one always comes shining through. Louise. She knows how to handle me at times like these, and it makes me appreciate her all the more.

In addition, with emotions wrought and wrangled and because I often resort to headphones to get the last minute of “do not disturb me” time out of the day, I find the oddest songs can develop a strange resonance and catapult themselves into my internally kept list of favourite tracks. Such tracks literally give me goosebumps. Whack on Nothing Else Matters by Metallica and when that guitar solo kicks in… yup, goosebumps.

Sticking with the rock theme, for I cannot lie I do like my rock music, the current song achieving similar levels is the oddly repetitive yet wonderful anthemic Come Alive from the Foo Fighters. Not only does it seem to musically hit the right notes, lyrically it brings me full circle back to the centre of my life, my darling wife. Odd that.

I just wish I could play it just a little bit louder (but I’m quite considerate when using headphones).

Anyone else get this with certain tracks? Just me?

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A few weeks back Radiohead, a fairly well-known rock band from England, released their new album via the web and in a fairly radical move, allowed people to pay whatever price they wanted for the privilege. Anything from £0.00 to £100, they said (I wonder what the top amount paid was…).

Since then… apart from a couple of press releases full of ill-thought out stats… nothing.

What happened? Where is all the noise? Where are the “told-you-so” bleatings? What happened to the “revolutionise-the-music-industry”? It’s a disappointing damp squib if you ask me.

On one side, Radiohead remain silent on the matter. Or as good as.

On the other side the press was quick to report that a large number of people grabbed the album for free. They threw stats out like sweeties; one-third of people who downloaded the album paid nothing, average price paid was £3, and so on.

What does this prove? What does this say? Everything and nothing of course, and part of me hopes that was exactly what Radiohead intended.

Offer something for free and people will take it. Offer something with only guilt as a payment mechanism and many people easily push any emotional feeling to one side and plunge onwards. Offer something which can be free, and people will take it for free. This is the society we live in, writ large and then swept under the carpet.

Reaction to all of this freeloading seems out of place, there was SO much hype, in many different quarters, about this that it seems almost out of proportion.

Other artists (most notably Prince) have given away their music for free, realising that they make the bulk of their money outside of CD sales, but part of me hopes (desperately) that the music-loving fan, when given the ability to set a price, would do the right thing and pay up. A glint of humanity and integrity is all I’m looking for…

How laughable.

What I really don’t understand is where is the backlash? There is no screaming rhetoric to be found anywhere, either bemoaning the freeloaders or angry that this experiment failed to show the music industry that it was a viable solution.

But I guess that is a good thing because this experiment could do no such thing. It couldn’t PROVE either, the freeloaders (statistically) grabbed the music in about the same percentage as they do for music released via a record label.

The music industry didn’t take much of a kicking either as Radiohead will also release the album through a record label and hey, guess what, not EVERYONE is comfortable downloading music. The majority of the music listening public like CDs, or at the very least something tangible.

Reading between various lines, I think the only thing this experiment could ever prove was whether an artist would make more money PER SALE if they distributed things themselves, or via a record label. On that front I think Radiohead, on a per sale basis, doubled their money? I’m not sure as getting accurate figures is proved difficult but they certainly didn’t lose any money.

The deafening silence that blankets this entire episode worries me more than any of the financial/industry aspects.

Are we really so quick to put such things aside? Wasn’t this supposed to herald a new wave of thinking in the music industry, or is that where the silence comes from? A million record industry executives trying to figure out how to ‘fix things’.

This kind of thing isn’t a viable business model for a semi-successful band, one who flirts just below the limelight, and whilst it may boost the standings of newcomers (mySpace in particular) at a certain point it will start to hinder them.

I’m bemused and a little disillusioned. I had hoped this would’ve kicked started… ohh I dunno… something, anything… but nothing seems to have come of this. So I’ve gone back to my usual method of purchasing music and will continue to do so with knowledge of a better way gnawing at my wallet.

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