One of the unspoken skills necessary in IT is the ability to translate user requests to real-world setups that will both satisfy business needs and business budgets. This is as true now as it was during the early days of the Web, when the IT department at our company was arranging Internet connectivity and cables for the rest of the enterprise. At the time, we had requirements from most of the departments, except for marketing.
"Mike," a young network engineer, was responsible for requirements from that group, and though his technical knowledge was sound, his lack of experience showed. When it was time for him to put in the plan for marketing, he reported that the department needed a T10 line, which was a huge expense and nearly unheard of for the workplace at the time.
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"What do you mean?" I said. "You know there's no such thing."
"That's what they told me," he replied.
We needed to get to the bottom of this, so the two of us went to see "Lonnie," the manager of the marketing department. I asked Lonnie why he needed a T10 line.
"A T1 line is 1.5MBps and we need to download 10MBps, so we need a T10," he stated. "Didn't Mike tell you?"
Mike looked at me and suppressed a smile, unable to refute Lonnie's claim.
I dug a little deeper: "What do you plan to do with all that bandwidth?"
Lonnie explained that the department planned to transfer 10MB graphics files for marketing literature. Also, the group needed Web pages to load in less than 8 seconds because his team wouldn't put up with the wait.
I pointed out that they'd wait only a few moments and only for a few large graphics files. I even laid out the cost for him: $10,000 a month for a T10 line. Couldn't he go with a lower bandwidth?
Instead of trying to work with me, he threatened to go over my head and bring in the vice president.
This is where my experience truly made a difference and where Mike's training failed him. I called Lonnie's bluff and offered to talk to the VP myself to point out the same economic terms. I also noted that no one else had asked for a T10 line. Surely, Lonnie wouldn't want to be known for insisting on unique requirements.
Finally, I had Lonnie's attention, but he repeated the importance of those darn 10MB files. I promised he could get them in 10 seconds instead of 8, a negligible difference.
He jumped on the offer, and I informed him that Mike would write up the requirement statement. All Lonnie had to do was return it promptly with no changes, and it wouldn't cost him a cent.
"OK, great! Thanks." Lonnie looked relieved.
After we left, I told Mike to send Lonnie an email with one line: "Marketing Requirement: Transfer 10MB files in 10 seconds."
"But that's just a T1 line, isn't it?" Mike asked.
"Yup. But Lonnie is happy now, because he thinks that he won. Send the email quickly, before he reads some other 'desirement.'"
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