Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Unknown Unknowns of Computer Consulting

Andrea Parsons

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where computer consultant, Andrea Parsons is speaking to TechLauncher software engineering students on "The Unknown Unknowns of Computer Consulting". Andrea started with US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's famous quote: "... there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know ..." (US DoD Briefing, February 12, 2002).

Andrea undertakes engagements under a fixed price quotation. This starts with a scoping study to find the limits of the unknown unknowns. The quote includes an investigation and discovery step. The example given was of a new payroll system. The problem was, in essence, to get the client to understand how complex a problem this was.

Andrea emphasized the need to engage with stakeholders, avoiding "us" and "them". She pointed out the silliness of people sitting down the hall from each other, but communicating specifications by email.

What I found interesting about this is that many of the issues in software design are similar to those for educational design. In the courses MDDE 605: Planning and Management in Distance Education and MDDE 617 - Program Evaluation in DE, I had to plan a new educational initiative and in the latter prepare a quote for evaluation of an existing course. Presumably many other professions undertake these planning and estimation tasks.

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