Business vs. IT

I felt like a lawyer. The call was in less than 12 hours, and I was busy preparing my case, consolidating evidence and building my story. To be honest, I wasn’t 100% behind the argument I was preparing to put across, but I didn’t really have much of a choice. I had to believe — how could I convince others if I couldn’t even convince myself?

But at the same time, I really wanted to steer clear on the “us vs. them”. Together with allies “from the other side”, we were working hard on framing it from a collaborative angle. It’d do us all no good if our discussion disintegrated into a blame game.

The situation at hand was a classic business vs. IT situation. Business says “we asked for this”, and IT says “no, you didn’t.” Whatever the case, the project deadlines weren’t going to be hit and nobody wanted to be responsible.

The funny thing is, if you asked me, I’d say no one was responsible (or that we all were). It was one of the first times we were doing anything close to what we were doing, and it was almost expected that hiccups like these were going to occur.

Requirements were defined, and IT made good on those requirements. Business was as clear as they could be on those requirements, but apparently not clear enough.  But how could they be? The project was a little too big and too fuzzy to be executed perfectly from the get-go.

Maybe a more iterative approach might have worked better, with all parties agreeing at the start that for a period of say, two or three weeks, we’d all be in a transition phase, where 70% of the requirements were met and the other 30% part of some type of agile-development, exploratory process, where things didn’t need to work perfectly but problems rectified quickly.

True, we could have spent more time thinking through and defining better requirements. But even if we spent an additional year we might not have uncovered requirements buried deep under others, the discovery of which were dependent on the implementation of the others. Would the need for a parachute have come to pass if planes hadn’t yet been invented? Would these later requirements have come to pass if the earlier ones hadn’t been implemented?

Whatever the case, this was an interesting situation to be in.

Stars

I used to look up to the stars with a quiet mind and a quiet heart, thinking but not thinking; wondering but not wondering. It’d always amaze me how quickly the stars moved if I tracked them against something close by, like the tree outside that partially blocked my view. Without the tree as a reference, though, it was impossible to see how the stars moved. Which was good when you just wanted to get lost in time and space.

There was once I tracked a group of stars all the way across the sky, from the moment they appeared behind a neighbour’s house to the moment they got lost in the brightening sky. I hadn’t realised it, but I’d been wondering and wandering for what must have been half a day.

Different, with a better story

I’m currently watching The Voice of China. On that show, there’s this singer called Perhat. He’s, in the words of his fans, an “Uyghur Rock Star”. I’m not really a fan. But that’s just me. Many, many others think he’s the next Bob Dylan.

There is something about him. He’s different from the other contestants. He voice reminds me of Tom Waits (whose song The Piano has been Drinking, video below, I fell in love with at first hear).

The thing about Perhat is that he seems really loveable (I remember in an earlier one-on-one round, when he kicked out his adversary he refused to raise his hand in victory. His adversary had actually helped him a lot with the language of the song, as he wasn’t fluent in Chinese,  and he felt bad at kicking out the very guy who helped him win).

He’s also got a really sad backstory (I was almost going to say “blessed with” but if that’s blessed leave me out of the blessing please). Every time he sings, if you’re aware of his backstory, you really want him to win. To do otherwise just seems heartless.

But… BUT…

It just seems odd that he’s gotten this far in the contest, and I’m just wondering if it’s due to his being different.

By remaining uncategorisable, essentially in a different league but not necessarily a better one, Perhat has made it extremely difficult to judge him.

During the one-on-ones, we have singers singing standard songs, with standards of quality we can easily make sense of (“she sings well, but she’s no Adele”). Perhat, on the other hand, sings in a way that we’re not really accustomed to hearing. We have no real benchmark. Because we can’t make sense of how to score Perhat, we might be inclined to think it’s much better than we think.

The proliferation of English songs in The Voice of China has also been a little put-offish. They sing technically well, but because you know it’s their second (maybe third) language, it’s difficult to really believe the emotion behind the songs (I can’t help but think they’re focusing harder on recalling  the phonetics than the singing).

But still, they insist on singing English songs. And it seems to pay off. Of the episodes I’ve seen, those who’ve sung English songs, have managed to overcome stronger opponents who’ve sung in Mandarin. Foreign songs are a novelty for Chinese singers, and difficult to judge due to unfamiliarity. And, like Perhat, because it’s difficult to make sense of how well the song has been sung, we might be inclined to think it’s better than it really is.

Could it be the blue ocean strategy at work?

On Blogging and Slogging

Ah, it’s been a while since I last published anything here. Feel a little guilty, but thankfully not too much. Crazy work commitments in the months prior (man, I’ve been busy) followed by a two week holiday (to America!) meant I couldn’t devote as much time as I’d have liked to writing here.

Taken on the way to Hollywood!
Taken on the way to Hollywood!

Which reminds me of this article I read just earlier today, When Blogging Becomes a Slog (unfortunately I can’t recall how I got to know of that article), which I think many writers would be able to relate to. It’s about how a couple started writing/blogging on home renovations as a hobby, became uber successful at it, and made it into a job/career, only to realise the jobification of writing pretty much made them lose their writing mojo.

I sometimes get that feeling here at edonn.com too. The only thing is that my demarketing of edonn.com, deliberately keeping readership low (ha! if you believe that), has ensured that even if I skipped a week or two or twenty, I don’t really feel pressured to feel pressured.

The data is what you want it to be

I was just browsing kottke.org when I came across a short little post about a neat page on Wikipedia aptly called “List of common misconceptions“. The post contained an excerpt of that Wikipedia page on life expectancy, a misconception that I myself had (somewhat embarrassingly) up till only recently:

It is true that life expectancy in the Middle Ages and earlier was low; however, one should not infer that people usually died around the age of 30. In fact, the low life expectancy is an average very strongly influenced by high infant mortality, and the life expectancy of people who lived to adulthood was much higher. A 21-year-old man in medieval England, for example, could by one estimate expect to live to the age of 64.

I’d always wondered what it felt like to live in the middle ages, where people died on average forty, fifty years earlier than they do now: What would I do differently? Did people get “old age” issues younger? Were there great grandparents? 

When I realised that infant mortality was the one greatest factor in affecting average life expectancy, it opened my eyes up to the possibilities of data story-telling.  You can pretty much tell any story you want, with any sort of data, depending on what you leave in or out.

The fact that the average life expectancy in one place and/or time is two-fold that of another place and/or time doesn’t really mean anything without context.

That life expectancy in Monaco is 87 years while life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 47 is a fact.

That Sierra Leone’s average life expectancy is affected greatly by infant mortality is a story. That Sierra Leone’s average life expectancy is affected greatly by deaths of both mother and child during childbirth is a story. That Sierra Leone’s average life expectancy is affected by poor access to healthcare services in rural areas is a story. That Sierra Leone’s average life expectancy is affected by civil war is a story.

That Monaco’s life expectancy is helped by having the lowest infant mortality rate in the world is a story. That Monaco’s life expectancy is helped by compulsory state-funded health services is a story. That Monaco’s life expectancy is helped by their Mediterranean diet is a story.

In my work as an analyst, I work with data quite a bit. Many times someone would come up to me and ask, “so, Donn, what does the data say?” And I can’t help but answer that question with another: “What do you want it to say?”

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