Planning new systems

Background: Did you ever get asked to set up something new, only to find that all the people above you were all instant experts, pestering you the whole time about the best way for you to do things? But there's never a budget to establish a core of support for the people at the sharp end . . .

A choice of nouns

Henry Cruciform was reminiscing last night. He had just heard a couple of us talking in an establishment providing medicinal relief to the shell-shocked about the need for a clear direction in the development of IT in schools.

"It reminds me of the time when we were beginning to get roads," he told us. (Did I mention that Henry is hugely old, and often remembers such things?)

Naturally, we asked him what had happened. Somehow, we always do. And we bought him refreshments, most of which seemed to be absorbed into his hairy hand by osmosis. We always do that, too, because it seems to be the natural order of things.

"Well first they had this problem with the lines. Some people said yellow, some said white, some wanted dotted lines to save paint, and one bloke -- we found out later he made paint brushes -- said we ought to make all of the lines double. In the end, we just gave everybody brushes and access to the paint locker, and let market forces work it out."

Well we found this a bit hard to believe, especially when Henry mentioned that some of the lines went across the road instead of along, but that was nothing, he said. "The median strips were a real problem," he said, gracefully accepting another glass. "Some people wanted to put them along the middle, some wanted them across the road so they could double as speed bumps, and in the end we nearly had a daring solution—diagonal median strips were almost adopted as standard."

"Wouldn't that have made it hard for the cars?" my colleague asked.

"So what? Look, this was serious policy making we're talking—and that meant we had to forget something like the car that wouldn't be around forever, especially if we had diagonal median strips. Anyhow, seeing we hadn't worked out which side cars should go on, the diagonal median strips would have given an equitable share of both sides of the roads to all users."

I'm afraid I let my guard down at this point, and expressed my doubt.

Henry told me that was nothing to the problem that came next. "It's a bit like that Telstra and Optus thing," he said. "You know, whether to put the roads underground, out of sight, or whether to string them along between the power poles. You only got the roads where they are on the surface today on account of a last-minute compromise."

"It sounds to me like you needed a bit more firm guidance," I ventured.

"Not us, son. No we had more than enough guidance for a lifetime." He paused long enough to drain his glass, and then sat it down on the bar.

"We were in the same position you're in. What we really needed was more guides."

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This file is part of a series, written by Peter Macinnis, and last revised on August 20, 2003

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It may be freely reproduced for educationally useful purposes (you decide if it is useful), if the file is reproduced as it appears here -- I like people to know that it is me causing them annoyance :-)