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Good requirements, bad product

May 31st, 2010

The Consumerist [consumerist.com] has a short article on the Pentagon’s recipe for brownies — no not the happy-fun kind of brownies, the military stopped testing that in the ’70s. We’re talking K-Ration, nuclear-war proof, post-apocalyptic edible, made from shit cockroaches won’t eat, cardboard brownies.

The article on the consumerist [consumerist.com] is basically the following two quotes, but they are so perfect, I’m going to reproduce them here:

“Shortening shall be a refined, hydrogenated vegetable oil or combination of refined vegetable oils which are in common use by the baking industry. Coconut and palm kernel oils may be used only in the coating. The shortening shall have a stability of not less than 100 hours as determined by the Active Oxygen Method (AOM) in Method Cd 12-57 of the Commercial Fats and Oils chapter in the Official and Tentative Methods of the American Oil Chemists Society. The shortening may contain alpha monoglycerides and an antioxidant or combination of antioxidants, as permitted by the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS), and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and regulations promulgated thereunder.”

I like it! A well written, clear and concise, technical requirement… Of course there is one tiny little problem with this requirement:

“[NPR] asked Penny Karas, the founder of Hello Cupcake bakery in Washington, D.C., to whip up us a batch. And to be honest, they weren’t too good: dry, crumbly and dense. But they did taste as if they might last quite a while if boxed up and shipped to a war zone.”

Yep. This situation is a familiar problem to me as a Solution Architect… Well defined technical requirements that produce technically correct products that, due to the business requirements of the various stakeholders, no one wants to use…

I can’t tell you how many projects I have been on that I have had to fight some MBA holding sales|product|operations (delete as appropriate) weenie over their insistence on the inclusion of some brilliant business requirement like “It has to be good after a NUCLEAR FUCKING WAR!” Don’t get me wrong that might be a valid business requirement for military rations. It might even be a lofty goal for a mobile phone network. It is not, however, a useful or necessary requirement for a value added service in the mobile industry. No one cares if their phone can download music after the first strike! Well… Ok, maybe the guy who launched the bomb wants to download “We will rock you”.

Anyway, thanks to Stephen for the link, head over the the original article on The Consumerist [consumerist.com] with links to the actual recipe and the NPR article.

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