Ask the dumb questions early

by Andy Lester

I'm party to a lawsuit in small claims court. This guy named Paul signed a contract to buy our house back in June, and backed out of the contract, declaring it null and void. Now he wants his $500 earnest money back, and is suing me in small claims court for it.

So we both showed up in the courtroom on the appointed date, and the judge called us up. Paul and I stood in front of the judge, with our stacks of legal documents ready to go. We were all set to start in with our arguments, and the judge opened with a line of questions that seemed strange at the time:

Judge: "Are you Andrew Lester?"

Me: "Yes, your honor."

Judge: "Do you have the $500?"

Me: "It's in escrow, but yes."

Judge: "Is he entitled to it?"

Me: "No, sir, he broke the contract."

Judge: "I'm going to set a trial date for December Nth. As an alternative, you can work with the arbitration office to help settle this dispute."

Well, of COURSE I have the money, and of COURSE he's not entitled to it. Otherwise we wouldn't be here, right? But what if those questions weren't answered the way I did? What if I didn't actually have the money, and I was being sued for no reason? What if I was willing to return it to him, but had just never been asked? We'd have gone to trial for no reason, and everything would have been cleared up that day.

How many times have you been on a software project like that? Where the programmers are just ready to go, like me and Paul with our manila folders of paper, waiting to be unleashed?

It's a wise project manager who asks the dumb questions at the start, as well as provide potentially less-expensive alternatives to the stakeholders.

What lessons have you learned from unlikely places?


2003-12-11 11:15:29
Small claims court
I was a plantiff in a small claims court case a few years ago. The judge was basically asking if you contest the claim the plantiff made; you did, so it needs to go to abritration or trial. This may sound silly, but as in my case, some people won't take a claim seriously until it does go to court. The judge wasn't asking dumb questions. He was doing what he's supposed to: giving you an opportunity to contest the claim.
2003-12-11 12:14:57
Small claims court
That was my point: That we should ask similar basic questions before starting software projects.