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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Project managers, ducks, and dogs marking territory

There's a story I read on one of the Stack Overflow type sites a couple of years ago about a "duck". It was an answer about terms people have invented in the world of programming, and it went like this.

A company was working on a game called Battle Chess. It looks like an ordinary chess game at first, but there are some extras which become apparent as you make moves. When you select a piece and tell it to move, it morphs from a statue into more of an animated figure, and walks to the next spot. Then it goes back to being a statue.

So far, that's nice, but there's more. What happens when you make one piece encounter another? Ah, yes, that's when they fight. Both pieces come to life and start duking it out right there on the chess board. Obviously, it can only "win" according to the rules of the game, but you get to watch them hack and slash at each other.

I think the rook actually picks up and eats the queen, but it's been many years so don't hold me to that. I know there must have been a bunch of combinations of animations which I never saw.

Anyway, about the duck. As the story goes, the artists had created all of these animation cycles for their game, and it had to pass through the review stage of a project manager. One of the artists knew the way these guys tended to want to "leave their mark" on things, and did something a little extra.

Apparently, the queen was given a little companion. As she came to life and moved around, so did the duck. It would just follow her around the board.

Supposedly, the PM saw this and said "it's great... just remove the duck". So, the artist went in and removed the duck (which had been carefully placed to make that easy), and that was that. The sacrificial duck kept the meddling manager away from the stuff that was important.

When I first read this story, I figured it only applied to artistic situations like that. I've since thought about it some more and now believe it can come up far more often.

Have you ever noticed how some people want to "touch" everything which is being done on a project, even if it has nothing to do with them? It need not be huge, but it seems like they want to have just a small deviation applied to all potential changes. It's almost like they want to be able to point at any given part and say "I'm the reason that happened".

It reminded me of something else. Think about what dogs do when you take them out into the world. Show them a tree or a fire hydrant, and I bet they're going to mark it. Walk a little bit more, and find another tree or similar post, and I bet the dog will mark it, too. It's like they keep something in reserve so they can keep marking as they go.

Given this, what exactly is the difference between these people and dogs who claim territory by lifting their legs on things?