The Decision Maker

The Superman Myth

Posted by Aaron Wang on Aug 4, 2011 8:50:11 AM

A remake the movie Superman (called Man of Steel) is currently being filmed for a 2013 release. After moaning over Hollywood’s dearth of new ideas, I recalled another Superman story.

This story started with a client calling about a new project to convert a home grown Excel-based reporting scheme into an enterprise quality sales reporting system. The company had not previously embarked on such a structured reporting project. Wisely, management supported a modest project scope for this initial endeavor. Nevertheless, the budget was tight.

“Can you provide us with a resource to handle the project?”, the client asked.

“Sure. With what parts of the project do you need help?”, I asked.

He paused. “Well…all of it.”

I said, “Great. We have just the team to help you out.”

“Hold on. This isn’t a massive project and I’ve got a limited budget. Just provide us with your best resource.”, he said.

“What resources from your team will be involved?”, I asked.

“Everyone who will contribute requirements has committed time to the project. Also, our technical folks are prepared to provide information about where the data is and set up access to get to it. However, we don’t have anyone on staff who knows about developing such a system. That’s why we need a resource from you. ”, he said.

“Do you have an internal project manager?”, I asked.

“Well, I’m the primary project contact. But, if you mean a day-to-day project manager, no we don’t. I expect your resource will handle that.”, he said.

Rather than go on with the rest of this depressing conversation, I’ll summarize situation. The client was looking for Superman and Superman is a myth.

However, if this Superman existed, these are the “superpowers” he or she would possess:

Project Management

Provide an overall framework for the project from project charter to project plan to a closing lessons learned session and everything in between.

Business Analysis

Gather requirements by documenting the existing system, interviewing current report producers and users, and publishing documentation describing in detail what the new system.

Data Analysis

Based on the requirements, analyze and document all available source data to determine location, format, quality, and means of acquisition. Also, identify what required data is missing and propose means to acquiring it.

Data Architecture

Design a model of how data is extracted from source, transformed (if necessary), and loaded (ETL) into the reporting database.

ETL Development

Create the target database tables and create the coding necessary to make the Data Architect’s model a reality. This includes creating processes for automatically refreshing the data and alerting support personnel of problems in any of the ETL steps.

Report Development

Once the reporting database is complete, a reporting “layer” is developed. These are the screens and reports users access to do their work. Extensive testing efforts are required from both developers and users of the system to make sure project requirements have been met.

While these superpowers do not fall into the category of “able to leap tall buildings in single bound”, assuming one person will be able to handle all of them is not reasonable. In some smaller projects one individual might handle two, and possibly, three of these but not all.

In our practice, “Superman” is a composite of all our team members, each expertly applying their specialty in the context of a rigorous project management protocol. For the client described above this approach was eventually agreed to with very good results. The project was completed on time and within budget.

In movies and comics the lone superhero saves the day. In real life, however, the team of dedicated, experienced experts saves the day.

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