Romancing the IT Project
I often wonder when watching the National Geographic series on ‘Mega Structures’ if an IT project can ever be that dramatic. Can any project evoke that deep a sense of romance and history? The answer almost always is no – primarily because no IT project directly overwhelms any of our five senses. The greatest of applications merely enhance our user experience.
However an IT project can go through dramatic twists and turns before we see it complete. Like when we executed a project for one of our larger customers in the Travel & Transportation Industry Group. We were helping them come up with an application that can be used on mobile devices to help users track lost baggage.
It started with the contract itself. We were to develop the application based on the requirements written by our client architect. Another vendor would test our application. This division of work was the first time for the customer that required us to make a Fixed Price contract. Added to that, we needed to develop this application in an agile mode. This meant we needed to make a release every two weeks so the application can be tested. The customer also put in stringent quality expectations for the application. The requirements were reviewed by several more people and further changes occurred. This put us in a bind since we had already moved into the design phase. Given this being a Fixed Price Project, we could not afford to have requirements change substantially over long periods of time. We started tracking the changes in a change control log and shared that with the customer. This made all parties wary on the need to freeze on the requirements at the earliest.
The customer had to ship us a HHT (Hand Held Terminal). The Hand Held Terminals are mini computers that agents in the airport can take with them. They look like a small machine gun. They come with capabilities to scan, as well as connect to printers through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The intent of the project was to equip the Airport agents to carry these devices and enable them to print out receipts from a small printer appended to their waist belt.
The customer shipped the HHT to us which reached us in about 3 weeks. Most of the time was taken in clearance for its entry into our Special Economic Zone (SEZ) office. This HHT worked for about four hours and then went dead. Without the HHT, we could not test what we were developing. This put the entire timeline of the project at risk. We lost about four weeks trying to get the replacement for HHT. During this time, we had to shift the tasks around, so that we continue to work on activities that do not require the HHT. This impacted the testing vendor as well since they had to change their plans. What they had planned to test later had to be tested immediately. Our two-week sprints had a different set of items being shipped out. Communication was a very important element through all of this.
We pounded the streets of Bangalore to get a replacement for HHT. After spending a lot of fuel and time, we finally got one replacement that worked. Once the HHT started working we realized another problem. The HHT connected to our Bluetooth printer successfully. However our application would not print. We tried many different things. We Googled, put in requests to the HHT and Printer vendor, but all in vain. We started reaching out to Mindtree’s mobile practice. With two days to go before the project will officially slip the timeline, our Delivery Head reached out to our R&D services group. One of this group’s focuses is Bluetooth. This group is one of the top three Bluetooth based solution providers in the world. Within half an hour, they were able to resolve the issue. The problem was in our understanding on how the latest Windows Mobile platform used Bluetooth.
From here-on we completed our development as per schedule. We finally managed to release the product into production on schedule, much to the delight of everyone.
No amount of reading can replace experience. We learnt more about HHTs and printers on the streets and shops of Bangalore than on the Internet. We learnt more about Bluetooth in a half hour with the Bluetooth expert than the hours we spent searching for a fix on the Internet. But the biggest learning for us is the confidence to once more tread into uncharted waters, with nothing but faith and a little experience to keep us company.