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Reblogged:Initial Conditions and Collaboration

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IT professional Rachel Kroll once stumbled upon an indicator inherent to some projects that can indicate when a team of collaborators isn't holding up their end of the deal:
Image by Kaikara Dharma, via Unsplash, license.
I call it a "Canary MacGuffin". (or Canary McGuffin, if you prefer.)

In tech circles (and the original hole-in-the-ground mining context), a canary is something that you have which tells you when something else is happening. It's typically used to give you advance notice of something potentially harmful, like the site going down, or a mine filling with gas. It goes off before things go too far, in other words.

A M[a]cGuffin, then, is from screenwriting and refers to a plot element that may drive the story forward. It has to be satisfied for things to progress. You get it out of the way and then you can get on with what you were really there to do.

The quest wasn't "get a crystal key". It was "get this item I need". The crystal key just happens to be a complication that shows up along the way. Likewise, the software request wasn't to "copy this one file into this one place", it was to "make a dashboard". It just happened to require that one-time file copy event. Hence, it's a Canary MacGuffin. [bold added]
Way back in my Navy days, when I learned about standard operating procedures, part of that learning was to make sure the initial conditions for any given procedure were in effect at the outset. Kroll's story reminds me a little bit of that.

In any case, although Kroll stumbled on her concept by introspection when a project wasn't going anywhere -- and not every project will have initial conditions that obviously lend themselves to service as an indicator there might be a problem -- I agree that it might be helpful to think a little bit about the requirements of a project to determine if there is such an indicator any time one embarks on a collaboration.

Kroll's story is well-told and her catchy term should make this memorable for anyone who has been burned by another team dropping the ball before.

-- CAV

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