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I really love the way open source projects use RFC as a tool to get feedback and ideas from the wider community. I've been especially noticing this over the years with the way Ember have been doing their development.

I'm thinking about RFCs in the context of 'closed source' projects. The kind a consultancy or a software house would do for their clients. Are there elements that we can take from this concept and use it in projects that don't have such a big community to draw from? Has anyone done something like this before? Is it feasible?

Thoughts?

Update

Do you think there's an opportunity for developers to create something similar to an RFC process for features they are going to implement and how they are going to implement it? Kind of an early feedback loop. Or do you think it will be too much overhead?

  • It's called a "focus group." Microsoft uses them all the time. – Robert Harvey Jan 15 '18 at 1:07
  • @RobertHarvey Really, how can we explain Windows 8,10, and Windows mobiles then? :) I know MS spend a lot on ergonomics & user interface design and in times past it showed, but they've really dropped the ball corporately in the last 10 years. I was managing a Win7 rollout when Win8 started appearing and the team just laughed at it. There was no way we were going to put that in front of an average (XP) business user until it had been mainstream for years. – mcottle Jan 15 '18 at 1:22
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    @mcottle: [shrug] Microsoft is a better company now than it ever has been. They're much more open-source friendly than they used to be, they write better software, and they have a research group that thinks five years out. Anyway, nice job hijacking this thread. – Robert Harvey Jan 15 '18 at 1:23
  • @RobertHarvey Hmm, interesting. So how do you 'select' participants for this focus group ensuring diversity of thought is achieved? – reggaemahn Jan 15 '18 at 2:36
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    @JeevanJose: You'll have to ask Microsoft that. – Robert Harvey Jan 15 '18 at 4:03
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Good consultancies & software houses as part of the requirements capture will often have several rounds of User Consultation and may well also try to get the actual users, as opposed to the project managers & purchasing officers, involved in specification feedback, prototype evaluations, etc. they just don't call the process RFC.

  • If you have a UX team doing early discovery work, user journey mapping etc, then yes. But largely, it doesn't happen in my experience, due to multiple reasons; budget constraints, not a lot of experience with the UX process etc. – reggaemahn Jan 15 '18 at 23:32
  • @JeevanJose - I agree that it often doesn't happen and just as often the customer receives a deliverable which is unusable or emphasises cool sounding features rather than usability or is even totally the wrong product. The cost of producing an early prototype or demo and deploying it to end users for feedback is usually tiny compared to the costs of not doing so. – Steve Barnes Jan 16 '18 at 6:12
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The Request For Comment process is a general process for developing a specification and while its most obvious use is within the IETF and other non-profit, standards organizations, there is no reason why it can't be used by any other organization.

There are certain cultural factors that go along with the RFC process the primary one being documenting and discussing and shaping the specification as a work in progress in a transparent and consensual manner. This approach works well with standards organizations that are composed of representatives of multiple organizations all of who are attempting to shape the standard towards their ends yet who are also working to create a standard that is useful and acceptable. So there is very much a political component to the process.

The two most important facilities for this approach would be (1) a shared repository with a revision tracking mechanism so that all parties can review the document as well as its history and (2) a discussion tracking mechanism so that action items, action item resolutions, meeting minutes, discussions, comments, notes, and decisions can be tracked and audited and reviewed.

Problems with the RFC process is that it can be laborious and slow though the slowness is in part due to the part time nature of the participants. It is the work of a committee with all of the issues and problems that can arise from committee work as well as all of the greatness that can come from diversity of participant backgrounds.

  • Yeah, I agree. (1) and (2) I think are generally conditions that are met by most teams these days, Jira/TFS, Confluence, Bitbucket etc. Do you think there are elements that we can lift from the whole idea that can be applied to regular projects? – reggaemahn Jan 16 '18 at 3:02
  • I believe that doing a project well pretty much requires something like the RFC process. My experience is that the second facility, discussion tracking, is considered for the most part to be wasted time. When I was project manager for several small projects years ago, detailed meeting minutes was something I tried to get out via email the same day to document meetings and decisions in an organized manner. I found it to be very helpful for keeping people informed both within the team and the various departmental managers especially with people at different locations. Don't see it much now. – Richard Chambers Jan 16 '18 at 4:05

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