Hear What You Say

I first found in 1994 that people tend to say the answer in their talking, but don't hear it. Since then, I have noticed this in regard to both students doing assignments and even experienced people on projects. While talking about what they ought to do, they will name the key abstractions over and over without ever noticing what they just said, and then start puzzling and shooting off in all sorts of directions, not noticing the wonderful design floating above their heads echoing as kinetic energy rapidly turning into heat and getting blown away.

So I have been training myself to listen to what my discoursants and I are saying while designing. I kind of pause and replay back the recording of the last few seconds or minute of talk and see if there is anything in that vocabulary that is not in the design. There often is, and it is almost always better than what is in the design.

In the rarest of cases I can get some students to do this. Usually, while they are working, stumbling around in the dark, I can hear them name the solution over and over without noticing it.

Try it. It is not even MysticalProgramming. -- AlistairCockburn

In SecretsOfConsulting, GeraldWeinberg says that clients always tell him the answers to their own problems within the first five minutes.

If you give away all the BestConsultantTricks, I'm going to have to start THINKING for a living.

My favorite extreme example of this was during my first visit to the ChryslerComprehensiveCompensation project. During coffee my first day there, DonWells said, "If we could just throw away all the code and start over, we could get this done." A moment's pause, nervous laughter, next topic. Two days later, I told Chrysler's CIO, "If you throw away all the code and start over, you can get this done." She agreed, but said I had to be in charge. On the plane on the way home, I had a nice little panic attack - sweaty forehead, shakes, nausea (probably just NWA food). -- KentBeck

Wow, a documented case of an executive not listening to the staff, but accepting the same answer from a consultant.

But would the staff ever have said that directly to the CIO?

I don't know. However, everywhere I've ever worked on an application that has had a lot of ad hoc development done on it, the development team has said that it should be rewritten from the ground up.

CategoryStory CategoryCommunication CategoryLearningMethods

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