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May 7, 2010

Giving Due Diligence its Due

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I just spent a mind-numbing few hours filling out a Due Diligence document for the IT department of one of our oldest and dearest clients.

Now, trust me when I say that I love these particular IT guys. They've taught me more in a day about what it means to run an enterprise-class application than I would have learned in a year.

But their desire for documentation, their sheer persnicketiness, always threatens to play havoc with the one-time copywriter, sometime-actor, right-brain kind of guy I fancy myself to be.

So this Due Diligence got me to thinking about the unstinting demand for discipline. And you know what I saw? I saw a little glimpse of beauty, once again.

Here's how the image emerged from the details in which I've been mired all day.

I thought of all of the procedures we've labored to define at Pica9, in the effort to run a disciplined development shop. I thought about all the gentle persuading it takes to get a crew of developers ("creatives" all, and don't let the computer science degrees fool you) to follow a standard path to a common goal.

I thought of all the hours our application managers spend on the client side, juggling the idiosyncrasies that are woven into the client culture, and then fitting our methods to each individual brand of enterprise madness.

And it occurred to me that well-defined policies and procedures are like the cairns they build in the rocky wastes above treeline on mountain paths. In the bright light of a sunny afternoon, these stacks of stone strike you as ancient and irrelevant. But when the fog sets in and the path disappears, you find yourself seeking them out and blessing them for their impervious, immovable existence. And you want to thank the nameless trekkers before you, who stacked stone on stone so you wouldn't lose your way.

So, for you clients out there, who wonder sometimes if your marketing automation vendor is making mountains out of development molehills, know this: A vendor who obsesses on details may bore you to tears in a meeting. But he's a lot less likely to let your system go down at 2 am on a holiday weekend.

And for you creatives out there who, like me, chafe under the demands of due-diligence, here's a thought.

It's rare for people to see brilliance within discipline. But it's even more rare to achieve brilliance without it.

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