Aesop's FileMaker Fables
by Brian Dunning
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"You'll find your new FileMaker system," began the Consultant,
"to sport the most cunning and innovative Graphical User Interface
yet deployed on a personal computer."
The Clients oohed and aahed at each other in dreamlike astonishment.
"And our animated buttons?" asked one. "Are they in there too?"
Without a word, the Consultant clicked on one of the modern,
silvery buttons which performed to the delight of the crowd.
The Clients gasped in wonderment, and in a body, brought down
the house with applause and praise. The Consultant rose to his
feet and bowed respectfully.
And then he got out of bed. He dressed hurriedly, threw down
a Slim Fast, checked that the scruffiness of his beard and the
projection of his gut were just right, clipped on his thirty pound
keychain and slid down the pole to his 1974 Gremlin.
At the head of the conference table, the Director peered intently
at his Powerbook screen. He paused from time to time to check
the reaction of the Consultant, who sat chewing gum loudly at
the far end of the table, arms crossed defiantly. The Director
shook his head and studied the screen some more, clicking here
and there experimentally.
"What exactly is this?" asked the Director at last.
The Consultant rolled his eyes visibly. "This is a fully integrated,
cross platform asset tracking business database, optimized for
a multi-user environment, and designed to your exacting specifications."
"Mph," grunted the Director, and poked around some more. An associate
looked over his shoulder and both exchanged a look. "Is this a
joke?" asked the Director.
"This is what you asked for," came the dry answer.
"What about all our different interfaces for the different user
access levels?" asked the associate.
"And now it begins," groaned the Consultant and threw open his
notepad. "You start adding specifications now, after the project's
completed, and I'm sure you expect it to be done for free."
"But that's basic to our system's functionality. Aren't certain
things assumed?" asked the associate.
"No, I usually just use my ESP to tune into your brainwaves,
and mentally decipher what you want that you don't ask for in
writing. No, certain things are not assumed. In fact, nothing
The Director pushed the Powerbook away and leaned back in his
chair. He wiped a hand down his face.
"I thought you'd be pleased," said the Consultant. "I did exactly
what you asked for in writing, no more, and no less. All I can
do is what you tell me. In fact, it saves you money because I
don't spend billable hours on assumptions."
"Would you excuse us, please?"
The Consultant looked surprised, then with a shrug, he rose and
shuffled out of the room.
"How much did we spend on this?" asked the Director.
"Too much," said the associate.
"Is there any budget left?"
"Some, of course. The question is how should it be spent? On
The Director shoved the Powerbook over to the associate and grinned.
"How about on your overtime?"
Moral of the story: Clearly the Consultant should have done better
work, but since he followed the letter of the contract, there's
not much the Director can do. The Director should have included
better language in the service agreement, and obviously did not
give the Consultant much to work from. When hiring a Consultant,
be aware of the risks you're taking, and cover yourself accordingly.
And when consulting, use your head. Merely adhering to the letter
of the contract is about the worst level of service to provide,
and will never produce a happy client or good references for future