German farm animals in software

eierlegende Wollmilchsau

egg-laying wool-milk-sow, or a pig that lays eggs, in addition to making wool and milk

Developing enterprise software is tricky. In addition to being able to operate in the complicated IT environments that have grown and evolved over time, enterprise software also has to address the many, and sometimes conflicting, requirements that users have. In some cases, it seems that the best reason for studying formal logic in school isn’t to understand what rarely-used terms like modus ponens and modus tollens mean. Instead, it’s needed to help you reconcile requirements that can be represented as "P AND NOT P" in the language of formal logic because that’s a reasonable way to model many customer requirements.

It’s even more difficult than dealing with multiple conflicting requirements, because customers don’t always give accurate or complete requirements to vendors. I was at a meeting recently where a customer of a particular vendor’s key management solution mentioned that the key management technology was useless to them because it didn’t support key hierarchies with more than six levels. The surprised vendor walked away grumbling that the customer had never mentioned this problem before, and was more than slightly upset that the customer chose to mention this problem in a public forum instead of bringing it up with either the vendor’s support team or the sales representative that’s responsible for that customer.

Most software vendors try fairly hard to provide customers with useful products. Voltage certainly does. Our product managers are routinely in their offices until fairly late at night trying to work all of the requirements that they’re aware of into the development schedules for their products. Some of this work is probably reconciling conflicting requirements, or trying to figure out if they should really try to make an eierlegende Wollmilchsau. I know that I spent a fair amount of time on these problems when I was a product manager. That was several years ago, at the time of the dot-com boom, but it seems that that aspect of the job hasn’t changed since then. I suppose that’s part of the reason why product managers are worth what they’re paid.

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