I felt that from now on I needed to get closer to actual customers, to find out what their real needs were. My idea was that if we understand what the actual customer wants, delivering real business value in their eyes, then we would have a much better chance of delivering software useful to the business.
Consequently, I moved on to a successful Silicon Valley consultancy, focusing on financial systems far large (and rich) banks. They suggested a variety of projects, and I jumped on one that gave me daily exposure to real banking experts.
We were to produce a replacement for a legacy banking settlement system – which consolidated banking trades and redistributed money and ownership of stocks and so on between banks. It is a very profitable business, and our client had a large budget for the development of the replacement settlement system.
After being offered the job, but just before starting it, I took a “road trip” through California, to unwind, and prepare myself for my imminent escape from messy projects and (at last) my exposure to the “real way software is done” in businesses that know what they are doing.
My hopes were quickly shattered. It turned out that the project had been going on for a year or so when I joined, and it was stagnating at the uncomfortable stage where the bankers kept asking the developers “when are you going to deliver the software?” and the developers kept asking the bankers “when are you going to give us the requirements?”
This standoff soured the relationship between the bankers and the developers into an “us and them” mentality. I noticed that the developers tended to keep busy with technical distractions, and the bankers tended to keep busy by avoiding us. Still, the bank kept paying our high daily rates and per diems, and the general approach seemed to be to keep ours head downs and not make too much of a fuss.
I was there for two years, and the standoff hardly improved throughout the whole of that period. Every now and then, of course, we would produce some deliverable, mostly for appearances sake. Most presentations were cast in technical terms that could rarely be tied back to any real business need. Still, what did they expect when even the business experts couldn't tell us the requirements?
Eventually, the big bosses in the bank picked up on what was going on, and the project was scaled back dramatically, and (I heard) eventually scrapped. Of course, we continued to blame the bankers for never giving us any requirements, and they blamed us to the very end for never delivering anything of real value.
I suppose that in the big scheme of things it didn't matter: the consultancy had received a nice profit from the bank, and the bank continued to prosper despite the project. Personally, though, I was very feeling pretty low.