How to win friends and influence software schedules

It's the 1980s, and a regional building-supplies retailer is a big customer for this vendor that sells turnkey business systems, reports a programmer pilot fish at the vendor.

"They owned 11 locations across Georgia, and they asked for a major enhancement to our system," fish says. "They wanted it to allow their satellite suppliers to transfer via 9600-bits-per-second modem all of their Accounts Receivables data collected daily to their central system, where it could be aggregated.

"Our standard system was standalone -- it didn't normally communicate with multiple instances of similar systems."

Fish is supposed to be working on the distributed A/R system. But for months his boss, the programming department VP, keeps dropping top-priority tasks on fish's desk, so there's not much progress.

Then one day the customer calls fish directly: "Either you deliver this system in two weeks, or we're going to scrap the 12 systems of yours we have in place now and go somewhere else."

Fish tells the VP immediately about the call. VP's response: Why haven't you been working on it all this time?

"I pointed out how, for the last two months, he kept telling me to 'drop everything and work on this,' which was always something else," says fish.

"So he had me fly down to Atlanta to meet with the customer directly."

At the meeting, fish sits through a few off-color jokes from these "good ol' boys," then they get down to business. "Let me show you something," the director of operations says, and leads fish to the computer room with dozens of racks full of servers, minicomputers and a couple mainframes.

Then he walks over to a closet that holds a mop, bucket, deep sink -- and a minicomputer from fish's company.

"Do you understand now where your company stands in the order of things?" director asks.

But after a working lunch to finalize some design issues and resolve questions fish has, the director is a lot less unhappy. He thanks fish for understanding their requirements, and fish returns home to get to work.

"Two weeks later, we had a field engineer install the new distributed A/R application code on all their systems over the weekend," fish says.

"The system worked very well, and the customer finally was able to process all remote A/R data from their central office."

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