On a recent trip to the sunshine coast, I took the family to Australia Zoo. It was my first time, and I was excited to see how my twenty month old daughter would be with all the animals - especially those that she knows and can say (which is a lot!). Australia Zoo has a new exhibit called Africa, and you guessed it, it has african animals in it. The way that it is marketed outside and inside of the complex I thought it would have been completed, unfortunately it wasn't. But it did get me thinking about the Africa exhibit as a project and the project management involved in such a construction.
The requirements are reasonably simple: Steve Irwin always wanted to have a african sanctuary within Australia Zoo, comprised of giraffes, rhinoceroses, zebras, and cheaters. They would need some where to live in a simulated natural environment, and would need to be seen easily by the paying customers. Let's say for simplicity that obtaining and transporting the animals is outsourced to another company, and we are just concerned about the living arrangements of the animals. One constraint on the project is the space needed, the animals need a lot of space but people need to be able to easily see them. We also need to get people in, and they can't travel for ages to get there.
My first thoughts when I arrived to the sanctuary via the open air bus was "wow is really hot here", second thought was "oh it looks like they are still building it". Then I realized this is just phase 1, there is more to come. They had already started building a new walking track from the main zoo to the sanctuary and the tents used for shade were obviously temporary as with their tent poles sticking up at shin height that were an OHS nightmare waiting to happen. But it all didn't matter because the main attraction was the animals.
Phase 1 had the right features but the surroundings were a work in progress. In fact, the recent rain had meant the rhinos were a little too playful in the mud and the giraffes didn't like it so were separated, we didn't even get to see them. The cheaters were not as "free" as the other animals, they are probably a little too dangerous to let loose in the park, they are walked around on a lead by zoo keepers and various times of the day, we did briefly see the cheater under the mango trees outside of the sanctuary. But the marketing team had the zebras, giraffes, rhinos and cheaters all playing together on a wonderful african plain. Did we care? Did the other groups care? Maybe a little but not enough to ask for our money back. Even the family with the little girl who only wanted to see the giraffe didn't ask for their money back. The features were there but they weren't finished, it was hot and uncomfortable, and the marketing showed us a future vision of the park not what this release had it in. Why is it that we feel ripped off and frustrated when we pay money for software that doesn't meet our requirements? Even when we are told that it's phase 1? Even when the marketing tells us the "truth" about missing features and sometimes even known bugs!
Project management is often more about the perception rather than the actual. As a developer, this is one of the hardest things for me to understand. Zero or one, right? Either we have it or we don't - Wrong. Sometimes a lower quality output is ok, as long as we can control the release - in other words we can explain to the giraffe seeking little girls that "there are no giraffes today cause the rhinos are a little randy", or "there are a few bugs within feature X as we focused on feature Y for this release". Quality doesn't have to suffer, but we need to be honest up front with the team and the customers about our intentions, so that the quality we are aiming for is the quality that is expected.