Friday, April 26, 2013

Software Requirements

My day job as a software developer keeps me busy. Some jobs have the occasional lull or slow season, but it seems that in software development, there are always backlogged feature requests to work through, bugs to investigate, tooling to enhance, new techniques to practice. Therefore, while reading More About Software Requirements, I was surprised and somewhat dismayed to see the author argue that, on top of everything else I'm trying to do, I need to spend more time gathering software requirements (finding out and documenting what exactly people want the software to do). The author apparently anticipates objections, because he immediately adds, “High-quality requirements also ensure that the development team works on the right problem… Wasting less time implementing the wrong functionality accelerates the project” (p. 23-24). Having too much to do is bad, but spending time solving the wrong problems and working on the wrong functionality is even worse.

Of course, software development isn't the only field that faces the pitfall of being productive at doing the wrong things. Approaches such as pretotyping and the Lean Startup tackle this problem for innovators and businesses in general. But while businesses continue to look for ways to avoid the trap of spending time on the wrong things, doing the same in my personal life is at least as hard.

Once I get home from my day job, there's no shortage of things to do – a meal to help with, kids to put to bed, lunches to pack for the next day, and TV or computer games to relax and unwind. It's easy to not make time for prayer and devotions. Michael Mack writes,

Joel Comiskey’s survey of more than 700 small group leaders in eight countries revealed that the biggest factor in their “success” was not their gender, social status, education, personality type, or skills. Rather, it was the leader’s devotional life. He found that those who spent 90 minutes or more in devotions (prayer, Bible study, etc.) a day multiplied their groups twice as much as those who spent less than 30 minutes. Comiskey says the correlation is logical. “During quiet times alone with the living God, the leader hears God’s voice and receives His guidance.”

I don't know how to have ninety minutes a day for prayer and devotions along with everything else I try to do at home, but Mack and Comiskey report that that time makes a difference. Having too much to do is bad, but spending time on the wrong thing – by not taking the time to hear God's voice and receive his guidance – is even worse.

I was surprised to read Paul S. Williams, one of the editors for Christian Standard, say that he spent close to twenty hours preparing a single week's sermon. He seemed to consider this insufficient. I wondered if this was a fluke or an outlier, so I asked the preacher at my local church, and he said he spends close to that as well. (This kind of time investment isn't unique to the pulpit; Nancy Duarte, author of Slide:ology, estimates that a good presentation can take 36 to 90 hours to put together.) It's hard to imagine spending half of the work week for a single half-hour talk. How can you do that and still have time to do everything else that needs to be done during the week? On the other hand, that single half hour is the one opportunity that the preacher has to reach almost everyone in the church, to preach the Word and to convey its power to people's lives.

Having too much to do is bad, but spending time on the wrong thing – by not being in God's Word and making the most of an opportunity to impact others' lives – is even worse.

For much of my life, I've thought that making the most of time (Eph 5:16) was more or less synonymous with good time management: practicing discipline and efficiency with hours and minutes, avoiding obvious traps such as excessive leisure or sloth. But there's more to it than that. Good time management is valuable (as long as it doesn't become legalistic), but by itself, it doesn't save you from spending time on the wrong things.

There's an old joke about a wealthy man who can't bear the thought of leaving his wealth behind at his death. So, after considerable time and effort, he finally finds a way that he can take it with him. He shows up at the pearly gates with a suitcase full of gold bullion and asks St. Peter if he can take it in. “Well, okay,” replies St. Peter, “but why are you carrying pavement?”

I don't particularly struggle with materialism, so I don't plan on imitating this wealthy man. However, if I'm honest with myself, a lot of my life is focused on productivity (completing the next project milestone at work, marking the next item off my to-do list at home) or entertainment (catching up on my current TV series, reaching the next level in a computer game). What if, when I reach the pearly gates and tell St. Peter of all that I've accomplished, he replies, “Well, okay, but we have all the power in the universe up here, so if those tasks were all that important, we would have done them ourselves”? Or what if, when I review how I've spent my time, St. Peter replies, “Well, okay, but we have joy eternal up here, so why did you worry so much about consuming temporary entertainments on earth?”

Having too much to do is bad, but spending too much time on the temporary and the unimportant is worse. I pray that I can spend my time on relationships with God and people, instead of merely on my own agenda; on serving, instead of merely on productivity; on enjoying all of God's gifts, instead of merely on entertainment.

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