March 31, 2009

Grand Design

To answer the Maven's question about where I was yesterday: The software company I work for has an uncommonly short release cycle. We only have eight weeks of development to put out a new version. Since my product is fairly in demand, this means I write a lot of designs at pretty frequent pace.

This work is subject to phases, which are magnified by the compressed release cycle.
Phase I: I just finished the designs for the current update and it's time to start thinking about the next update but I'm not quite ready yet. I hover between two updates and poke at a few things but it's hard to drop the topics that have claimed my attention for the last eight weeks and get started. I tend to be a little bit depressed and out of sorts during this phase, unconnected and drifting. Maybe even a little bit burned out. The clock is ticking and I'm not in the mood. I'd rather write articles and fold laundry. Fortunately, this phase tends to be short.
Phase II: I've started the designs for the next update but there are some questions from development and other groups around the current update so my attention is divided. I force myself to make steady progress but haven't really hit my stride yet. I don't yet have a stake in the current design beyond the obvious one that someone pays me to work on it. This is a restless, slightly irritable phase but reasonably productive.
Phase III: Something clicks and suddenly the design owns me. Maybe it's something someone said, or maybe the design has just reached a critical mass, but the different design threads pull at me all the time, insisting that I resolve them into a cohesive pattern. It's not enough to just design a business process, you have to be the person using it and know - really know - what they will do and what mistakes they are likely to make and your design has to help them not make these mistakes. Expertise is important but will only take you so far - you also need empathy. Empathy makes me grumpy and hungry so I'm more likely to butt heads with anyone who questions my design and eat cookies during this phase. When I'm in the throes of design I may not post anything for several days at a time because most of my creative energy is channeled into this relentless chattering monkey on my back.
Phase IV: I'm 95-98% done. I've crossed some sort of design threshhold where the pattern has integrity and holds together but that last 2-5% still needs to be done. It's usually pretty boring. Around this time the current release is ready for testing and that's boring, too, because computers take so long to catch up with thoughts, but also satisfying because this is where a design comes to life. This last phase usually only requires a small part of my attention so my mind starts focusing on other topics again. Unless I feel that the overall design is threatened, the snarling diva within keeps her head down and I am ready to make compromises like a rational adult.
So, generally speaking, when I don't post I either have nothing to say (on those rare days when the Germans don't do anything weird or funny at all) or I'm in Phase III.


  1. Glad to see you're emerged from III and the Germans are once again behaving weird and funny.

  2. I actually wondered where you were! I usually wake up to a lovely comment from honeypiehorse, but not this morning! And now I know why.

  3. Oh - those phases will faze you! I'm a scriptwriter so know the stress and death knock of the deadline! ;-)

  4. Happy good phase day. I just figured you were absent for a while because you were glued to Weeds.


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