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Getting the database specification revisited..

P: n/a
I am trying to get the spec for a database. The trouble is the client
frequently blurts out industry jargon, speaks insanely quickly and is easily
sidetracked. They are currently using around 30 different spreadsheets and
they want me to refine those spreadsheets in to an Access DB. The current
system is a complete mess.

My gut feeling is the project is actually fairly straightforward, but after
several meetings, emails and telephone conversations I am no closer to
"grasping" the scope of this job. I seem to be asking the same questions
over and over and getting different answers or finding another "surprise"
entity is required. In a nutshell I don't think it is unfair to say that
they are both disorganised and poor communicators.

I have started trying to diagram the database (I am new to this, but
confident with it) but it's like pulling teeth trying to reduce our
confusing conversations and mass of spreadsheets down to a simple data flow
diagram.

I want this job.

What would you do next?

Paul


Feb 5 '07 #1
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10 Replies


P: n/a
On Mon, 5 Feb 2007 17:51:32 -0000, "Paul H" <pa**@nospam.comwrote:
>I am trying to get the spec for a database. The trouble is the client
frequently blurts out industry jargon, speaks insanely quickly and is easily
sidetracked. They are currently using around 30 different spreadsheets and
they want me to refine those spreadsheets in to an Access DB. The current
system is a complete mess.

My gut feeling is the project is actually fairly straightforward, but after
several meetings, emails and telephone conversations I am no closer to
"grasping" the scope of this job. I seem to be asking the same questions
over and over and getting different answers or finding another "surprise"
entity is required. In a nutshell I don't think it is unfair to say that
they are both disorganised and poor communicators.

I have started trying to diagram the database (I am new to this, but
confident with it) but it's like pulling teeth trying to reduce our
confusing conversations and mass of spreadsheets down to a simple data flow
diagram.

I want this job.

What would you do next?

Paul
Run like heck.
It sounds to me like the customer does not know what they need or want
so anything you provide will not meet their expectations and you are
going to be on the hook to make it work.

If you don't want to RUN, make sure you have an iron clad contract
with a very explicit Statement of Work for the product to be
delivered. Also make sure that maintenance and upgrade is a separate
item in the contract.

I would not do this one on a project fee basis, it would be a level of
effort fee basis and I don't come cheap at the per hour rate.

Have a nice day. ld****@NOPANTS.juno.com

Remove NOPANTS. To reply by direct E-Mail;
Support: The Right to Privacy and Anti-SPAM projects
Feb 5 '07 #2

P: n/a
rkc
Paul H wrote:
I am trying to get the spec for a database. The trouble is the client
frequently blurts out industry jargon, speaks insanely quickly and is easily
sidetracked. They are currently using around 30 different spreadsheets and
they want me to refine those spreadsheets in to an Access DB. The current
system is a complete mess.

My gut feeling is the project is actually fairly straightforward, but after
several meetings, emails and telephone conversations I am no closer to
"grasping" the scope of this job. I seem to be asking the same questions
over and over and getting different answers or finding another "surprise"
entity is required. In a nutshell I don't think it is unfair to say that
they are both disorganised and poor communicators.

I have started trying to diagram the database (I am new to this, but
confident with it) but it's like pulling teeth trying to reduce our
confusing conversations and mass of spreadsheets down to a simple data flow
diagram.

I want this job.

What would you do next?
Talk to someone else. Preferably the person/people that will actually
be using the end product most frequently. The person you are talking
to now probably doesn't even know what is required.

Feb 5 '07 #3

P: n/a
Thats Me <yq****@whab.pbzwrote in
news:hd********************************@4ax.com:
Have a nice day. ld****@NOPANTS.juno.com

Remove NOPANTS. To reply by direct E-Mail;
Support: The Right to Privacy and Anti-SPAM projects
Wouldn't it be *much* more fun if your munged email address were
"ld****@PANTS.juno.com"?

--
David W. Fenton http://www.dfenton.com/
usenet at dfenton dot com http://www.dfenton.com/DFA/
Feb 5 '07 #4

P: n/a
Extracting requirements is an art as well as a science, and from your
description, sounds as if with this client, it verges on torture for you. I
agree with the other responder that, under these circumstances, you should
only work on a time and materials basis (definitely not a "best estimate
with fixed upper limit" nor "fixed price" basis), and, if you've been doing
things so far as a "marketing effort", the time has come to contract for a
Requirements study.

Then, have a frank conversation and tell them, politely, about the
difficulties and that each "surprise" delays the project, takes your time,
and is costing them money. Do not proceed until they agree that the
Requirements Study will result in a Requirements Document, and that you will
not begin design until that Document has been reviewed, and approved by them
as the "baseline" from which the design will be done. You will have to
direct the discussion back to the subject when the client is sidetracked,
but unfortunately, you are likely to have to proceed some distance down the
sidetrack before you can determine whether it is or is not important.

Also, introduce a Change Control Procedure... where once the Baseline is
established, any change will be reviewed by you and the client, you will
estimate the impact and the price of the changes (and don't lowball the
estimates), and then they will choose to Reject the change, Defer the change
until after some other project milestone (such as delivery of the database),
or Accept it. In the latter case, the estimates will be recorded as
additions to the previously-agreed project estimates. And, as a courtesy as
well as for your own protection, you should point out the total cost of the
project including these estimates before they decide the disposition of the
change.

There are a number of more-or-less structured, more-or-less workable
approaches to gathering and documenting requirements, none of which is
sufficiently brief for a newsgroup response. One that I have used (sometime
in the late 1970s or early 1980s) is "Structured Analysis" which included
Data Flow Diagrams (DFD) -- which was taught in a course and book produced
by Yourdon, Inc.. I note that Ed Yourdon has enhanced the technique and you
can find out more by looking at his wiki at
http://yourdon.com/strucanalysis/wik...e=Introduction. I see
that a revised version of his 1989 book (written sometime after I first used
the technique... I believe our book was written by a Yourdon employee named
DeMarco) is available in PDF format via a link from the wiki. Be cautioned,
however, that learning the technique and DFD is not an "overnight read".

On the other hand, perhaps a "break in the action" or a little "quiet time"
would be beneficial, lest you get so eager to have the contract that you
inadvertently sell yourself into a "lifetime of involuntary servitude".

Larry Linson
Microsoft Access MVP

"Paul H" <pa**@nospam.comwrote in message
news:c6*********************@eclipse.net.uk...
>I am trying to get the spec for a database. The trouble is the client
frequently blurts out industry jargon, speaks insanely quickly and is
easily sidetracked. They are currently using around 30 different
spreadsheets and they want me to refine those spreadsheets in to an Access
DB. The current system is a complete mess.

My gut feeling is the project is actually fairly straightforward, but
after several meetings, emails and telephone conversations I am no closer
to "grasping" the scope of this job. I seem to be asking the same
questions over and over and getting different answers or finding another
"surprise" entity is required. In a nutshell I don't think it is unfair to
say that they are both disorganised and poor communicators.

I have started trying to diagram the database (I am new to this, but
confident with it) but it's like pulling teeth trying to reduce our
confusing conversations and mass of spreadsheets down to a simple data
flow diagram.

I want this job.

What would you do next?

Paul


Feb 5 '07 #5

P: n/a
On Mon, 05 Feb 2007 16:40:13 -0600, "David W. Fenton"
<XX*******@dfenton.com.invalidwrote:
>Thats Me <yq****@whab.pbzwrote in
news:hd********************************@4ax.com :
>Have a nice day. ld****@NOPANTS.juno.com

Remove NOPANTS. To reply by direct E-Mail;
Support: The Right to Privacy and Anti-SPAM projects

Wouldn't it be *much* more fun if your munged email address were
"ld****@PANTS.juno.com"?
David that is two semi humourous posts you have made in the last few days.
Is everything OK :)

Wayne Gillespie
Gosford NSW Australia
Feb 6 '07 #6

P: n/a
Wayne Gillespie <be*****@NOhotmailSPAM.com.auwrote in
news:ua********************************@4ax.com:
On Mon, 05 Feb 2007 16:40:13 -0600, "David W. Fenton"
<XX*******@dfenton.com.invalidwrote:
>>Thats Me <yq****@whab.pbzwrote in
news:hd********************************@4ax.co m:
>>Have a nice day. ld****@NOPANTS.juno.com

Remove NOPANTS. To reply by direct E-Mail;
Support: The Right to Privacy and Anti-SPAM projects

Wouldn't it be *much* more fun if your munged email address were
"ld****@PANTS.juno.com"?

David that is two semi humourous posts you have made in the last
few days. Is everything OK :)
That wasn't a joke.

I have no sense of humor.

--
David W. Fenton http://www.dfenton.com/
usenet at dfenton dot com http://www.dfenton.com/DFA/
Feb 6 '07 #7

P: n/a
On Tue, 06 Feb 2007 08:35:01 -0600, "David W. Fenton"
<XX*******@dfenton.com.invalidwrote:
>>
David that is two semi humourous posts you have made in the last
few days. Is everything OK :)

That wasn't a joke.

I have no sense of humor.
That's better.

Wayne Gillespie
Gosford NSW Australia
Feb 6 '07 #8

P: n/a

"rkc" <rk*@rochester.yabba.dabba.do.rr.bombwrote in message
news:45***********************@roadrunner.com...
Paul H wrote:
>I am trying to get the spec for a database. The trouble is the client
frequently blurts out industry jargon, speaks insanely quickly and is
easily sidetracked. They are currently using around 30 different
spreadsheets and they want me to refine those spreadsheets in to an
Access DB. The current system is a complete mess.

My gut feeling is the project is actually fairly straightforward, but
after several meetings, emails and telephone conversations I am no closer
to "grasping" the scope of this job. I seem to be asking the same
questions over and over and getting different answers or finding another
"surprise" entity is required. In a nutshell I don't think it is unfair
to say that they are both disorganised and poor communicators.

I have started trying to diagram the database (I am new to this, but
confident with it) but it's like pulling teeth trying to reduce our
confusing conversations and mass of spreadsheets down to a simple data
flow diagram.

I want this job.

What would you do next?

Talk to someone else. Preferably the person/people that will actually
be using the end product most frequently. The person you are talking
to now probably doesn't even know what is required.
Trouble is, the person I am talking to is the main user!

:o/

Paul
Feb 7 '07 #9

P: n/a

"rkc" <rk*@rochester.yabba.dabba.do.rr.bombwrote in message
news:45***********************@roadrunner.com...
Paul H wrote:
>I am trying to get the spec for a database. The trouble is the client
frequently blurts out industry jargon, speaks insanely quickly and is
easily sidetracked. They are currently using around 30 different
spreadsheets and they want me to refine those spreadsheets in to an
Access DB. The current system is a complete mess.

My gut feeling is the project is actually fairly straightforward, but
after several meetings, emails and telephone conversations I am no closer
to "grasping" the scope of this job. I seem to be asking the same
questions over and over and getting different answers or finding another
"surprise" entity is required. In a nutshell I don't think it is unfair
to say that they are both disorganised and poor communicators.

I have started trying to diagram the database (I am new to this, but
confident with it) but it's like pulling teeth trying to reduce our
confusing conversations and mass of spreadsheets down to a simple data
flow diagram.

I want this job.

What would you do next?

Talk to someone else. Preferably the person/people that will actually
be using the end product most frequently. The person you are talking
to now probably doesn't even know what is required.
Trouble is, the person I am talking to is the main user!

:o/

Paul

Feb 7 '07 #10

P: n/a
Thanks Larry that was very helpful advice.

Well, I finally dusted of my copy of Visio and put tougher a DFD which, if I
say so myself, was rather good. It was a particularly useful exercise as it
illustrated just how little of the brief I have actually received.

I have sent the DFD to the client and, depending on their response, I will
most likely throw the ball back to them and ask them to document and
describe the content and relationship of each spreadsheet...in layman's
terms. My thinking is that if they do this without fuss, then it is an
indication of their commitment to the project. If they take issue, I'm out
the door.

Most of my projects are smaller than this and rarely need anything more than
a reasonably detailed proposal and a handshake. I win on some, I lose on
others.

If nothing else this experience has taught me to be more professional in my
approach and at least consider the benefits of a basic diagram or screen
grabs when drafting the initial proposal.

Paul

P.S. Thanks for the link to the JESA document, that enabled me to complete
my DFD much quicker.

"Larry Linson" <bo*****@localhost.notwrote in message
news:dtOxh.2580$6P4.1395@trnddc06...
Extracting requirements is an art as well as a science, and from your
description, sounds as if with this client, it verges on torture for you.
I agree with the other responder that, under these circumstances, you
should only work on a time and materials basis (definitely not a "best
estimate with fixed upper limit" nor "fixed price" basis), and, if you've
been doing things so far as a "marketing effort", the time has come to
contract for a Requirements study.

Then, have a frank conversation and tell them, politely, about the
difficulties and that each "surprise" delays the project, takes your time,
and is costing them money. Do not proceed until they agree that the
Requirements Study will result in a Requirements Document, and that you
will not begin design until that Document has been reviewed, and approved
by them as the "baseline" from which the design will be done. You will
have to direct the discussion back to the subject when the client is
sidetracked, but unfortunately, you are likely to have to proceed some
distance down the sidetrack before you can determine whether it is or is
not important.

Also, introduce a Change Control Procedure... where once the Baseline is
established, any change will be reviewed by you and the client, you will
estimate the impact and the price of the changes (and don't lowball the
estimates), and then they will choose to Reject the change, Defer the
change until after some other project milestone (such as delivery of the
database), or Accept it. In the latter case, the estimates will be
recorded as additions to the previously-agreed project estimates. And, as
a courtesy as well as for your own protection, you should point out the
total cost of the project including these estimates before they decide the
disposition of the change.

There are a number of more-or-less structured, more-or-less workable
approaches to gathering and documenting requirements, none of which is
sufficiently brief for a newsgroup response. One that I have used
(sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s) is "Structured Analysis" which
included Data Flow Diagrams (DFD) -- which was taught in a course and book
produced by Yourdon, Inc.. I note that Ed Yourdon has enhanced the
technique and you can find out more by looking at his wiki at
http://yourdon.com/strucanalysis/wik...e=Introduction. I see
that a revised version of his 1989 book (written sometime after I first
used the technique... I believe our book was written by a Yourdon employee
named DeMarco) is available in PDF format via a link from the wiki. Be
cautioned, however, that learning the technique and DFD is not an
"overnight read".

On the other hand, perhaps a "break in the action" or a little "quiet
time" would be beneficial, lest you get so eager to have the contract that
you inadvertently sell yourself into a "lifetime of involuntary
servitude".

Larry Linson
Microsoft Access MVP

"Paul H" <pa**@nospam.comwrote in message
news:c6*********************@eclipse.net.uk...
>>I am trying to get the spec for a database. The trouble is the client
frequently blurts out industry jargon, speaks insanely quickly and is
easily sidetracked. They are currently using around 30 different
spreadsheets and they want me to refine those spreadsheets in to an Access
DB. The current system is a complete mess.

My gut feeling is the project is actually fairly straightforward, but
after several meetings, emails and telephone conversations I am no closer
to "grasping" the scope of this job. I seem to be asking the same
questions over and over and getting different answers or finding another
"surprise" entity is required. In a nutshell I don't think it is unfair
to say that they are both disorganised and poor communicators.

I have started trying to diagram the database (I am new to this, but
confident with it) but it's like pulling teeth trying to reduce our
confusing conversations and mass of spreadsheets down to a simple data
flow diagram.

I want this job.

What would you do next?

Paul



Feb 7 '07 #11

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