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Spelling Bee! June 1, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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By chance, I stumbled upon the finals of the National Spelling Bee last week.  I watched a bit for fun, but was soon completely captivated.  I wound up watching all ten rounds to see who would win.

I am a stickler for correct spelling.  Spelling, like math, is either right or wrong. There is no “close enough” in spelling, even if the reader can figure out what you were trying to say.  Poor spelling says, in effect, “I can’t figure this out; you do it.”

It was fascinating to see the competitors work through the Bee.  For each word, they were able to ask questions about origin and meaning, as well as alternate pronunciations and appropriate usage.  The color commentator was great, explaining how these clues helped.  Word origin is especially helpful since various root and suffix patterns differ between Latin, Greek, and Germanic origins.  Sure enough, one kid used the Greek origin of a word to pick out the correct “rrh” pattern in the middle of a medical term.

As all these things do, it came down to a four-time competitor and a newby, battling through the list of “Championship Words.”  The newcomer, seventh-grader Tim Ruiter, missed “maecenas.” This opened the door for Kavya Shivashankar to nail “laodicean” for the win.  Personally, I didn’t think this was fair.  “Maecenas” has that awful blended “ae” and a soft “c,” making it almost impossible to spell if you haven’t seen it before.  “Laodicean,” on the other hand, is spelled exactly as it sounds and is a somewhat more common word.

Although I think a better final round would involve soundproof chambers and everyone spelling the same words at the same time, I can’t complain about the general intent of the Bee: to reward those who care to get it right, who take the time to do the job well.

Would that we would all apply similar discipline and focus to everything we do, spelling or otherwise.  Many people view spelling as a small, inconsequential thing, but it represents a far larger concern.  There is no difference between a writer with poor spelling and a painter who does sloppy trim work, or a carpenter who doesn’t sand everything evenly.  Either you care enough to do a job right, or you don’t.

Spelling matters.  Grammar matters. Punctuation matters.  Neat painting and smooth furniture matter.  As does making that extra call to a customer, taking an extra moment to listen to someone’s concerns, or working a bit harder to understand a problem.  Little things do matter, and all the things that seem big are really just lots of little things strung together.  Get the little things right, and the big things will come much easier.

Slices Of Apple, Part 3 July 30, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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This is the third in a series of posts dissecting Apple’s recent misfortunes during the rollout of the iPhone 3G and related technologies.  You’ll find the first post here.

Time, Quality, or Money: Choose Two

I am always surprised when I meet IT folks who don’t know this old canard.  Simply put, in any project something will be sacrificed.  If you want a high-quality result on time, you’ll spend a lot of money to get it.  Want to hit your budget and deliver high quality?  You’ll take longer with fewer people to get things finished. And if you want to hit your date and hit your budget, you’ll never meet your quality goal.

Apparently, this is the choice that Apple made for MobileMe, the new shared email service launched along with the iPhone 3G earlier this month.  After making the bad decision to release four big things all at once, Apple seems to have stuck with that decision without regard to the quality of the MobileMe product.  The fallout has been terrible and Apple has lost face with a huge swath of its customer base.  The problems still aren’t fixed, and users are still (rightfully) upset, as witnessed by the FailMe parody web site.

The key to successful project management is to realize that this rule is inviolate.  When a project goes awry (and they all do, to some extent), you will be choosing two of these three goals.  How to decide?

If possible, choose Time. Money may be limited, and quality is crucial, so delaying a project and slipping a date is your least distasteful choice.  If you are managing a project whose date cannot slip (end of year reporting or tax filing, for example), recognize that constraint right away and budget lots of money to ensure that you will wind up with good quality.  A good product delivered late is still a good product; a bad product delivered on time will never be forgotten.  Apple will be hearing about MobileMe for a long time; slipping it would have been no big deal.

If you can’t choose Time, choose Money. Money buys labor in the form of developers, testers, tools, and anything else you might need to hit that date.  The goal is to ensure that you avoid having to choose quality.  Be careful, though: money only goes so far.  At some point, you cannot buy your way to hit a date.  (There is a closely correlated rule for this: Nine Women Cannot Have A Baby In One Month).

Never choose Quality. If you really have to choose Quality, argue strenuously to cancel, defer, or redefine the project.  Like eating bad food, memories of bad quality linger for a long, long time.  Slipped dates are soon forgotten as people move on to other things, and even blown budgets fade after time.  Bad quality never diminishes and can come back to haunt you over and over again.

In short, make rational decisions on Money and Time, but never give in on Quality.  If you cave in on Quality, you’ll soon find yourself living through Musciano’s Extension to this rule:

Time, Quality, Money, or Your Job: Choose Three

In these cases, you usually aren’t the one making the final choice.