Wednesday, February 3, 2010

East Coast Video - Communications Breakdown

Our friend James Foster had found us some contract work. A video rental store in Brockton, Massachusetts wanted to get out of their 3x5 index card system and into a computerized one. The software was going to run on an IBM PC clone with two floppy drives. This was to be a pretty big project worth thousands of dollars. I went with James to meet the owner of the store. He began to explain what he wanted. I would ask him questions to try and clarify the details and I took notes. He was very enthusiastic about our designs.

I went back to Mr. Alessi's house and with great energy proceeded to build this system. We wrote and debugged it using the BASICA interpreter and then created binaries with the IBM BASIC Compiler. It had to manage a catalog of customers, and catalog of video tapes, and also keep track of who rented what, and for how long, and how much that cost depending on what category of movie it was. It also had to calculate total charges including taxes, and of course the cashier had to be able to override the price.

One month later we were ready and we took the system to Brockton. Wouldn't you know it, the system was not anything like the way our customer was expecting even with the long design session together. So, now equipped with the knowledge of what they didn't want we sat down for another design session.

The software needed to be rewritten from scratch, and this time they wanted in a week! I spent the next week working late into the night to create the new system. When we were done and showed it to the customer we were relieved that he was happy with the result. We just needed to deal with some minor tweaks and some performance optimizations.

In retrospect this would have gone a lot better if I had developed the software there in the store. That way we would have learned very quickly if we were straying from the customer's needs.

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