T-SQL Tuesday #13 - What The Business Wants Is Not What The Business Wants

December 14, 2010 00:00 by Matt Whitfield

This is a really interesting topic chosen by Steve Jones of SQLServerCentral fame, and, for me, is a story of communication skills.

What the business wants can be expressed in a few different ways, by varying people. For example, a high availability system might be described as having no downtime, or it might be described as having geographic redundancy. These requirements might be voiced in a few different ways:

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'We need a system that is always available for our customers'


'This system is business critical and cannot be unavailable at all'


'We need to use replication to make sure our system is disaster proof'


'The system has to be hosted in the cloud so that if the office network goes down it is still available'

Based on the premice that a little knowledge is dangerous, those statements are listed in order of increasing danger.

What do I mean by that? Well, the sentiment behind each of those statements is:

'We recognise that our systems and the data within them are valuable, and we want to protect them as much as is reasonably practicable given our budget'.

But the statements above start to not only specify the what - but the how. I have seen many, many systems where dubious architectural decisions have been taken at an early stage because 'that was the way Mr. Manager wanted it'.

Is it reasonable for us, not only as DBAs, but as computer scientists, to allow Mr. Manager to specify the how without a reasonable understanding of what was being asked for?

We've all been there - sitting in a meeting room and Mr. Manager comes up with another gem:

'We could use an EAV table to store that kind of information'

Everyone in the room knows that's not the way to go for the scenario at hand, but, strangely, nobody speaks up. Everyone has that slightly sinking feeling at the pit of their stomach, but nobody says a word.

And there, right there, is the failing. Both in Mr. Manager's 'I've just read about technology X and will suggest it every time I feel slightly out of my depth' and, in each of the people who failed to speak.

That sinking feeling doesn't mean 'Oh dear this system is going to be a mess'. That feeling means 'I need to speak up now in order to avoid a steaming pile of rubbish'.

You might not feel that you have the right environment in which to speak. Or maybe you feel like you shouldn't 'embarrass' Mr. Manager. Well, you're wrong. Ok, you can take times and places to deliver your message, but the message that needs to be delivered at the initial stage of the project is:

'We need, right now, to focus on the what, and leave the how for later - getting the what right is critically important to our success'.

Sometimes, a picture can paint a thousand words. If you're having trouble, get out a flip chart and write, in big letters:

'We need to avoid this:'

Below that, attach a print-out of this classic project picture:

The project

That should make the point, while not embarrassing anyone, and getting things off to a good-humoured start.

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12/14/2010 11:20:06 AM #


Matt, excellent loved the diagrams especially the one about the documentation

JEM United Kingdom

12/14/2010 11:36:58 AM #


Thank you sir! Smile

mattw@atlantis-interactive.co.uk United Kingdom

12/15/2010 1:08:13 PM #


I had a paper version of that diagram when I was working on a VB project with SQL6.5. It got lost when I changed jobs and I have intermittently searched for it ever since. Thanks for reacquainting us. I seem to remember more pics and there was no roller-coaster in those day (in the pic, not in real life. I'm not that old).Sage advice though. Nice post.J

FatherJack United Kingdom

12/15/2010 1:59:37 PM #


There are a lot of variants - I googled for 'project swing' and quite a few come up on the image search...Thanks! Smile

mattw@atlantis-interactive.co.uk United Kingdom

1/10/2011 5:02:15 PM #


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