3. Choices and Revisions
Settling on a project is a stepwise process. It begins with brainstorming: listing some of the wide variety of concepts or ideas. Many projects are stimulated by existing or proposed products. Others come from desire to meet a need. The training benefit comes from being purposeful over time, working cooperatively with others, and finding a new way to use/apply computer technology. All of this can take place at many levels of accomplishment. Of the many things that distinguish outstanding from average work, the using the process and refining the product are basic.
The project process uses structured cooperation: it isn't a completely free association of individuals each doing what seems best to them in their own judgement. Instead it involves listening to others and working better because of their inputs and suggestions. This impacts bottom line rewards. It is exactly as Benjamin Franklin put it regarding the newly independent colonies "We shall all hang together or we shall all hang separately." In a group it is usually an unsuccessful approach for one person to dominate. There is enough diversity in the computer field to support benefit from insights of each individual in a project team. There are a range of tools to foster comments by team members,
to support idea generation, and to resolve disagreements. Most are seen in the profession as part of the project process.
Refining is a writing process oriented toward generating the clearest most effective possible report describing the technical ideas and work. Globally it operates by a sequence that looks like, starting at the left, thinking->writing->speaking->rewriting->speaking->rethinking->(revising)rewriting. The steps in the sequence can be aided by special-purpose communications often to fellow team members. These communications begin with the project title, and include many other items e.g., work statement, progress report, and specifications. The following describes a process useful to enable the group members to come to agreement on the project and the sub-tasks that move it along.
3.a Group Decisions
Working with a group becomes a stimulating and rewarding activity when all participants' ideas are valued and considered. When this occurs in fact, it is the main reason that the group can accomplish more than the sum of the separate work of the individuals in it. Techniques to foster utilizing all the ideas and abilities empower everyone in the group.
Since the project first stage requires ideas and they are always fragile growths, the first needed group decision process involves coming to terms with what will be done by all. This is actually a two-part issue. The first part is deciding the overall project purpose and topic. Ultimately the discussions have to be summarized, the key points listed, and some central theme isolated. The theme must then be described in a phrase or sentence. Condensed, this phrase/sentence-description can become a project report title. With all working under the phrase it is natural to call it the umbrella phrase.
Resolution procedures help to ensure that the ideas of all are considered and that each person has some influence on the ultimate theme. In order to get the creativity of all involved in the ultimate product, one person should temporarily act as a panel chairperson or discussion-leader. The chair sets the goal, namely listing all possible ideas that could become the theme in whole or part. As long as individuals are throwing off ideas the leader keeps the process going. All participants should resolve to refrain from comment in the first phase, and concentrate on thinking of things that might become part of the group project and stating them so that they are entered on the chair's list. When the leader senses that everyone has expressed all relevant thoughts, listing new items is closed and the discussion begins. Again, when discussion hits a slow point if the chair senses that all has been said, he/she moves the group on to the deletion stage.
In the deletion phase, each person can line out any item on the list until either only one remains or no-one objects to those remaining. Once that process has ceased the chair takes charge and manages the group, moving the discussion into preferences or relative-merit of the remaining alternatives. When the leader judges that discussion to have concluded the group votes. If the process is managed well and everyone expresses their views, it should be possible for all to endorse the final result.
3.b Work Statements and Progress Reports
A work statement is a text description of what the team intends to accomplish. It can be anything from a paragraph to a page in length. Usually it will be written only after completing a group decision process to choose the working version of the project title. The purpose of the written work statement is to elaborate and explain the title, and to provide a common resource for future reference and discussion. There is a second purpose that is actually more important. Until there is some written document everything about the project is changeable. Once the team members have concluded a discussion and come to an agreement about the work, they have begun to approach shared goals replacing individual objectives. Thus the creation of a jointly-written work statement and project title addresses the project in overview so that common effort can result its accomplishment.
Creating a work statement is an essential first action to put a project into a step-by-step manageable process toward reaching the ultimate goal. Commonly the job is spread among many contributors. Then a process is devised to coordinate the actual achievements. One reasonable approach sets deadlines and requires each team member to regularly communicate how much has been done in furthering the goal by the prearranged time. Clearly this could be done by informal means. Instead of putting the target into writing all could just say what they plan to do and when it will be done. Yet that leads to the potential for misunderstanding. It is best to write the goals down and to associate to each a target deadline. Doing that is a part of the process known as breaking the overall job into tasks, and the tasks into sub-tasks. Once any sub-task is assigned to some group member, and that person has agreed to perform it by a definite date, overall planning, moving toward the long-term project objectives, can start.
Descriptive writing about what has been done on sub-tasks and tasks can focus the group so the individual assigned can all use the knowledge and experience of other team members. Not every sub-task will be simple and direct. Progress reports give a written record that can be used to keep everyone aware of what has been done. In many situations it is reasonable and necessary to request all involved to write weekly progress reports.
Usually computer projects possess technical requirements; specifications describe them in sufficient detail so that when the project team presents the design a satisfied customer results. Let us consider the difference between a work statement and a specifications list in an example.
Example - Medical Data Card.
Work Statement: Design a card that can be carried in a person's wallet to convey a summary of their medical history to doctors within hospitals.
a. Size: Credit-card dimensions - 3 7/16 " x 2 3/16".
b. Material: Hard plastic.
c. Information: 32,000 bits.
d. Permanence: Nonvolatile information, not write-able nor erasable.
The example indicates that a work statement describes a project in generality and concerns overall characteristics and qualities within the context of the overall goal or idea. On the other hand a list of specifications presents detail apart from the goal/idea, and simply indicates technical requirements that must be met for the product to be acceptable.
Every project evolves as the team's individuals learn more about the state of the art, the technical possibilities, limitations that impact their design choices, constraints of time, personnel, or funds. Each team member must act at all times as a flexible partner, working to accomplish a sub-task, but available to neutrally-evaluate the state of the project, and if necessary make redirecting suggestions. Since everyone is contributing to a project that gets a single grade, supporting fellow team members is always greatly in the interests of every individual. The main item that can be passed to others who can measure a project's achievement is the joint report. That report is enhanced by revision, by a process of careful and thoughtful adaptation to real-world design limitations. This means that the writing work statements, specifications, and progress reports, is not done just once. Instead it becomes a practice or tool, a way to keep progressing toward a product.
Computers have changed greatly physically, but their uses have made even more radical adaptations. Since one of the purposes of the design project is to add to those uses it isn't fair to use any one as an example of possible innovation. However, apart from such applications as spreadsheets and word processors, changes in the data control process represent in part an adjustment or adaptation to the users' needs, as well as to the hardware and software. For example, command line control, the use of characters (letters, numbers) was replaced by the mouse allowing selection of a group of values, activation via a click action, and value or location change by coupling the depressed-mouse-button with motion (dragging). Conventions that had been very useful before the addition of mouse control are still in place in some computer systems but the new graphic user interface (GUI) mode presented designers with options that ultimately led to completely new modes of designing software: e.g., object-oriented programming (OOP). Other advances such as windows, icons, menus, pointers, balloon-help, etc., take the technology far beyond what was envisioned when the mouse was initially made available. Some consider the first four items so old as an innovation that they lump them together under the phrase WIMP interface - Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointers. Each of these terms, devices and innovations represent an adaptation ... in part to the technical situation that other inventions had relatively recently created.
Computer-projects' adaptation is a process. The work done must be presented clearly and completely without recording in detail the difficulties encountered or the historical evolution of the team. This is simply because there is insufficient time to absorb both kinds of material. A choice has to be made between presenting or emphasizing nuances/change-decisions and the actual accomplishment. The project personnel always do better to focus on the latter.
3.e Exercises and Projects.
1. The Newsweek anagrams for information superhighway must be expanded into a dictionary-like list of keywords. From the example:
New utopia (?) Horrifying sham.
the keyword list expands from its original two words to a current length of six.
Describe how you would create such a list. Detail work specifications to select an appropriate data structure for the list.
2. Write at least two specifications for a new system assisting world wide web users in performing research.
3. An organization of under 5,000 individuals needs to transmit text and numeric information between its members securely. That means that any transaction can be correctly interpreted by its receiver, but not by anyone else within or outside the organization. Construct a new code to enable this, describe the software that you would need to create, and support your claims of invulnerability with analysis based on the privacy literature.
4. Conduct a team discussion to title a figure, report-section, or your overall project report. Work to reduce the number of words, yet give a visual image to the reader. Use group-agreement methods. Get at least one suggestion from each team member before proceeding in the discussion process.
5. Devise a non-entertainment, non-shopping, use for multimedia. Provide economic or social justification for your use. Take a real need in the medical, governmental, or educational domain to provide the material for a project report that could be the basis of a proposal for future-support. Justify the need for the use of sound, text, video, animation, and photographic file data, for the envisioned application.
6. Devise a use of one or several Internet utilities, or describe and begin to create a new one. Note that the term Internet utilities refers to tools such such as telnet and rlogin. Both are based on standard computer techniques and the network infrastructure of protocols and communications systems. Your project need not be limited to these and other current utilities, but can be completely original in concept.
7. The existence of Internet and its Usenet features changes the kind of groups that can cooperate on a task. Devise tools to support geographically-remote partners to collaborate.
 Dern, D., The Internet Guide for New Users, NY: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994.
 Starfield, A., et.al., How to Model It - Problem Solving for the Computer Age, NY: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1990.
 Dewdney, A., The Armchair Universe, NY: W.H.Freeman, 1988.
 Boom, M., Music Through MIDI, Redmond, Washington: Microsoft Press, 1987.
Group Decision Processes
Value and consider all participants' ideas.
Use resolution procedures to ensure that the ideas of all are considered.
Decide the overall project purpose and topic.
Summarize discussions of the key points and central theme in a phrase or sentence.
Condense this phrase/sentence-description into a project report title.
Some individual sets the goal of listing all possible theme ideas.
Participants refrain from comment in the first phase where all list any possible idea.
When everyone has finished listing ideas discussion begins.
When discussion slows group moves on to the deletion stage.
In deletion phase each person can line out any item on the list.
When deletion has ceased discuss preferences/relative-merits.
When discussion concludes the group votes.
Use work statements for the project and its sub-tasks.
Use weekly progress reports to aid communication and completion.
Make your title and your text grow from your work statements and progress reports.
Work statement ... text description of what the team intends to accomplish ... anything from a paragraph to a page long. Usually written after completing a group decision process for a working version of a project title. Purpose ... elaborate and explain the title, provide a common reference for discussion ... and fix the project in a written document . When project team members conclude a discussion and agree about the work, they have common goals.
The work statement begins management. Commonly the job is spread among many contributors: some process must coordinate actual achievements. One reasonable approach sets deadlines and requires each team member to regularly communicate how much has been done in furthering the goal by the prearranged time, as in a weekly progress report. Progress reports give a written record that can be used to keep everyone aware of what has been done.
The specifications give detailed descriptions of things the project needs to accomplish.