I love the Rands in Repose post about Three Superpowers. If you don’t already read his blog, you really should, he’s a great writer and always has deep insightful advice.
Often, due to a cruel world I find myself needing to fix problems, but unable to issue a Mandate. The Debate generally drives me nuts, I tend to only go there when the issue is really murky and subjective. What I rely on most often is the Nudge. On my good days, I can get in, nudge, and get right back out again before anyone has noticed. The downside is no credit, but at least things are moving forward, I can live with that.
After I read that post, I started thinking about other options or techniques that I use in to get things accomplished. One common problem is with communication. When people talk, they’ll say anything. That’s fine, but in an industry were we need certainty, a verbal conversation leaves room for one of the parties to change their story later. What I often find necessary to lock things down is to force someone to ‘put it in writing’. This has two benefits, first that it is carved in stone, you can refer to it if there are future problems, but the second is that it makes the other person think about what they are saying. Shooting off a quick answer is easy, but having to commit to it is hard. Often the act of writing it down changes it significantly.
Verbal conversations, either in person or on the phone are fluid things, subject to change based on recollection. Email amps it up a notch, and a formal document of some type takes it even further.
In programming, we don’t want to lose time on work that doesn’t have value, but the value of some work isn’t always obvious until things go wrong. Ideas start with conversations, but need to be solidified in writing before a lot of resources are committed. Programmers often complain about changes and scope creep, but a great deal of those problems come from faulty communications or shallow thinking. We can control that, by insuring that we lock it down as early as possible. It’s a superpower that we can easily possess.