Creating The Demo Disk

reading time 5 min

Creating a software demo is like creating a TV commercial. You should structure the project that way.

Part 1: The first story

Many years ago I was at a company that needed to produce a demo CD-ROM (yes, this was a long time ago). It would basically be the company’s software, pre-loaded with a lot of fake data that would show off the various software features.

Sales people would walk the customer through a story of finding various problems and resolving them. This meant we need to create a script that the salespeople would follow, and the demo would need to have the right data to support the story.

I knew that the entire project was going to be a challenge because it required collaboration between marketing, executives, sales, and engineering. These groups don’t usually work together and are out of practice… leading to disaster.

What would help is if everyone understood the roles: their own, and other people’s roles. It would help establish boundaries and facilitate everyone working together better.

I couldn’t use software terminology to explain this project, because not everyone knew that lingo. I’d be surprised if half the people knew what a “requirements doc” was.

I needed an analogy they’d all understand.

At the kick-off I explained that creating a demo disk is like creating a TV commercial. A TV commercial has a producer, director, the talent, and the technicians. Everyone understands their roles and works well together when the division of labor is clear.

I explained:

  • The Producer: They are the primary customer. They’ve specified the high-level goal. They’ve requested the commercial, and they’re paying for it. They hire all the other roles.
  • The Director: They have the vision and the skills to make the commercial that the producer has requested. They are responsible for the details.
  • The Writer: They write the specific dialog and text.
  • The Talent: The actors. This is who the audience will see.
  • The Technicians: People behind the scenes that do the heavy lifting, the creative work, and so on.

Now let’s figure out who is each role.

Marketing said, “Well, we’re the producer, obviously”.

Sales chimed in, “No, we’re the producer! We are the people that need his demo disk!”

Then a fist-fight broke out and everyone had to be taken to the hospital.

No, that’s a lie.

What did happen was we had a long, heated, discussion. Was the CEO the producer? Would he be involved enough to do that job or was he delegating it away? Was it the VP of sales? Was it marketing?

Were the software developers the writers, the talent, or the technicians? We did eventually decide that the data and software was the “talent” and the software developers were the “technicians”. The director was going to do double-duty and also be the writer.

To make a long story short, after about 2 hours we got all this wrapped decided.

The analogy worked because rather than explaining things like “who writes the requirements” we were explaining roles and responsibilities. Once you have the role and responsibility, the need to have written requirements becomes obvious.

The project was a success.

Part 2: The second story

Years later I was at another company. After making a new product it was clear we needed a demo website (See? The first story was a demo CD, now we were working on a demo website. How technology moves forward!).

I knew exactly what to do.

“So, a demo website is like a TV commercial. To create it we need a producer, director, writer, the talent, and the technicians”.

Go away! That’s too complex! We’ll just figure it out. We’re too small to have all those roles! Let’s just do it!

Ok. I backed off. I’m not going to challenge the CEO for too long.

I left the project. I was the IT Director, I shouldn’t have even been involved in the first place.

A month later everyone was still arguing and nothing productive had happened.

So, at the request of my boss, I re-joined the project. Instead of asking who the roles were, I started telling people what role I was assigning to them. I announced that “Well, obviously so-and-so is the producer since he’s the VP of sales, so I’m going to be asking you for high-level decisions like scope and budget. And you, so-and-so, are the marketing director so I’m going to treat you like the TV commercial’s director.” and so on, and so on.

Things started moving forward. I forced the producer to put into writing what the fuck he wanted the end result to be, with deadlines and budget. I worked with the director to story-board out what the audience should see, and she also wrote the contents. The developers took the story-boards and made them come to life.

And everything fucking worked once people fucking listened to the person that actually knew what the fuck he was talking about because I have years of experience with this shit and a Liberal Arts degree which means I give a fuck about how people work together.

The end.

NOTE TO SELF: Rewrite that last paragraph to be less bitchy.

Tom Limoncelli

Tom Limoncelli

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