Visual Basic

Build Commitment and Understand Users

Project managers and users often have problems with defining project scope and keeping it in line with schedules and budgets. Continual commitment to dialogue is essential to ensure that business domains and technological solutions actually produce benefits in spite of the fact that normally not everyone involved completely understands these domains and solutions. The effect of normal business risks on a project can be greatly magnified to job-threatening and sometimes business-threatening proportions.

Your approach to development must make it possible for you to cope with large projects. Many attempts at rapid development have been based on scaling up small-project development practices. This model of development provides some useful lessons, but it must be placed in a framework designed for large-scale developments.

The development process must allow for managing changes in requirements without excessive bureaucratic burden and large amounts of rework. Often a way to achieve this goal is through prototyping. Visual Basic has always been an excellent prototyping tool that can be used to improve the understanding of requirements. Keep in mind, though, that the techniques for building rapid prototypes are very different from the effective use of Visual Basic 6 for building robust distributed systems. Users must not be misled into thinking that prototypes are anything other than prototypes. This misconception is a classic way of losing your users' confidence and commitment. (For more information about prototyping, see the "Why Are You Prototyping?" section later in this chapter.)

User commitment and involvement are critical factors to all application development. These factors have traditionally involved a contractual, even adversarial, relationship. On this basis, user commitment and involvement have been relatively easy to manage but not necessarily successful. If you are to speed up development, you must make users part of the development team and involve them continually.

The commitment from the business manager must be to assign to the development team a user who understands the business in sufficient depth to answer developers' questions, has the authority to make decisions on behalf of the business, and can live with the result of his or her decisions. To find such a user and release him or her to an IT project takes commitment. Major projects typically cross functional boundaries. Giving someone authority to make decisions across those boundaries means commitment from the top.