Montana Jones

Montana n: A state of the northwest United States bordering on Canada. Admitted as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state in the union, it includes vast prairies and numerous majestic mountain ranges.
Syn: Treasure State, Big Sky Country, Last Best Place.

Jones n: slang. An addiction or very deep craving.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


While wearing my web developer hat I have seen up close many of the problems of software and web development. Badly planned projects, feature creep, poor allocation of resources, unrealistic deadlines, allowing the marketing department to have a say in what the geeks are doing. All ingredients in the recipe for disaster.

Last year when I had a couple months before my Montana relocation I was approached to do some web development. Seeing that I was bored and the extra money had some appeal I agreed. I informed the client way up front that the relocation was imminent, tried to set up a timeline that ended around the end of January, and dove in. Hindsight being what it is, perhaps I made a poor choice. I set my timeline a little too ambitiously. I did not factor in enough 'fudge' time for the odd crap and the inevitable feature creep.

The first steps of the project went smoothly and quickly, and then the development plan started to change. Users of the system started coming forward with requirements that were not in the original plan, marketing started pitching the work in progress out to clients. Clients started logging in and using it. Then my Montana relocation happened. I tried my best to keep up the work from motel rooms and between house hunting and packing and the million other moving chores.

Now I am here and there are thousands of miles between me and the client and communications have broken down badly. I have another full time job and can only put in time on evenings and weekends. The original development plan we were following is apparently out the window. Every time I try to adhere to it a client using the system NEEDS something different and I am pulled away. Code is getting deployed untested. Every other day I get an Email to the effect of 'URGENT, client needs X tomorrow.' I still haven't finished the work on the urgent problems from weeks ago. My Emails back to the main office are usually sprinkled with question marks indicating points of detail I need clarification on. I think only about a tenth of my questions are ever answered. I am frustrated and I want this project to end.

The worst of it is that I brought much of this on myself. I should have known better than to think a web project of this scope would stick to the map and not feature creep. I should have known from painful experience that a marketing project would explode with a slew of bizarre requirements. I hope I learned a lesson from all this.