Sometimes the project is for turning

In a speech to the Conservative Party in 1980, Margaret Thatcher said that the “lady’s not for turning”. Projects are not always like this.

Recently a decision was made to change direction completely. A project meeting was held and a demonstration of some technology shown that followed the agreed project path. In the following conversation, various areas that had not been fully touched on were discussed.

Over the following few days, it was decided to change tack and try a different method of achieving the project goal, requiring several days worth of rapid writing and refactoring a fork of the existing codebase to get the bulk of the move achieved. There is more to go and a looking deadline but I think we’re in the achievable zone for the prototype.

Using techniques for sustainable development, such as version control and issue tracking, has been a great support to the effort. Having worked on large scale and business critical projects that use neither, I appreciate the time it saved. I need to fix the CI system as the Raspberry Pi that it is on as fallen over at the moment but being able to continually deploy to the target hardware for testing was also greatly appreciated.

However it does make me consider the nature of communication and soft skills required by projects and the different methods used. I began considering this at last year’s Research Software Engineers conference as part of the discussion on skills needs for the community. It strikes me as this is about more than just the words and communications methods employed (interpretative dance any one 😉  ) but also having empathy with other people in the conversation and what their desires are in the conversation.

I have found this can be hard as it makes one try to get over the ideas ad preconceptions about another person that may be coloured (positively or negatively) by actions and words. Sometimes it may mean compromising to save something; sometimes it also means drawing a line in the sand and explaining calmly what the issue is and finding a way forward. It is about learning the language of business (as this Thoughtworks post puts it) but also about knowing limits. Negotiation is not giving way.

Having made the turn and communicated this, there is a session to test the new prototype (as well as a discussion of the nature of a prototype to frame the conversation). A new conversation has to begin with new terms.

It is not an easy choice to make but sometimes a necessary one. Sometimes, the project just has to turn.