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Dark Helmet’s Approach to Project Management.

Spaceballs, the classic film co-written, directed by, and starring Mel Brooks, is one of my favorite of all time. It has a star-studded cast, makes fun of a film genre that is near and dear to my heart, and has so many memorable moments and soundbites. Anyway, I watched it again the other night, for at least the 10th time, and a scene with Dark Helmet compelled me to write this post.

Speeder

Spaceballs Speeder

Dark Helmet: Let’s get moving.
Col. Sandurz: Yes, Sir. Driver, prepare to move out.
Dark Helmet: What are you preparing?! You’re always preparing! Just go!
Col. Sandurz: Just go. Sir, shouldn’t you sit down?

Of course, this is a Mel Brooks comedy so the speeder pulls out and Dark Helmet gets thrown back in his seat. What does Spaceballs have to do with creating M2M customizations?

Well, my point is this. There is a natural tendency when working on a project to spend too much time in the planning (or preparing) phase. Why do I say that? Well, I believe that software development in general, and M2M programming in particular, is a Wicked Problem. This means that a problem can only be clearly defined by at least partially solving it. When Jeff Atwood describes this, he is referring to large software projects, not M2M Customizations which many would consider simple by comparison.

However, the concept is even more applicable in VBA and FF programming. As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I have been customizing Made2Manage for a long time, and even now I still don’t know exactly how I will achieve certain projects I am tasked with. I can almost hear the reader saying, “Well David, maybe you don’t know what you’re doing.” Perhaps you’re right, but none of us know what we’re doing in regards to VBA/FF. When I attended Consona Connect 2008, the conference included two VBA/FF sessions with Susan Edwards, Customizations Team Leader for M2M. She admitted that you often must try several different approaches when performing customizations because the implementation of VBA on different screens can be inconsistent. Now, if someone who has access to the developers and works on this stuff 40 hours a week has the same problems, what chance do the rest of us have to get it right the first time.

Now, I don’t recommend that you just start throwing code into the VBA editor and hoping for the best. What I recommend for M2M Customizations is to suggest options for the user and management as to how you think you can address their problems. Be sure to emphasize flexibility in the approach so compensate for the Made2Manage inconsistencies.

Mythbusters

Mythbusters

My approach is quite similar to the projects you see on MythBusters. For example, in the “Penny Drop” episode (which you can see here) they are tasked to prove or disprove the urban legend that a penny dropped from the top of The Empire State Building could potentially kill someone on the ground. In that episode Jamie has to find a way to fire a penny at 65mph. He describes his process:

I decided to use the staple gun because you know when we’re experimenting with things here in the shop a lot of times I don’t like to go through a whole elaborate process and days of machining something only to find that it was the wrong approach or didn’t have the right speed. I like to kind of find something that will allow me to move into it quickly. – Jamie Hyneman

His reasoning is similar to mine. Why invest a great deal of time in a particular method for your problem when the first one probably won’t be suitable anyway?

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2 comments to Dark Helmet’s Approach to Project Management.

  • Jason Griffith

    It’s hard not to enjoy Spaceballs.

    I think my natural method of development falls between the two by nature. I usually like to jump right in and start working on something and then do some planning after I’ve made some progress so that I can figure out the best way to proceed.

    Occasionally I get bit for moving too soon, and sometimes I get bit for waiting too long. Generally though, it turns out just fine.

  • […] I Shrunk my Project File I’ve mentioned in the past how difficult M2M’s flavor of VBA is to use. One problem that I haven’t touched on is […]

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