Lessons from Mrs. Frisby – Nibble before you Bite

Mrs. Frisby came into our life last week … She is a “fancy rat”.  Her presence as a pet in the household has forced a re-examination of my prejudices as I have put this creature, who normally skulks around in the dark (avoiding rat poison) under close observation.  I have observed rat behaviour that has lessons for document assembly …

Nibble before you Bite

A rat does not see very well … That should not surprise you since rats are nocturnal, where the sense of sight is not particularly useful.  Rather rats smell, use their whiskers, and use their teeth. Mrs. Frisby, in the morning samples my fingers with her teeth, before you she climbs onto my hand.  When she discovers it is flesh and blood (and not rat food), she climbs on board.  At first, I was concerned with this biting behavior.  But she does not bit down … rather, her teeth come into contact with my skin, and then the bit withdraws.

So … what does this matter

In looking at document assembly systems, my most successful projects have been those that started out as a nibble.  The nibble before the bite means that the user (1) understands the work involved, and (2) has not put too much time and capital at risk before ensuring that there will be a success.  The nibble also allows time to develop an understanding of the document assembly system’s method of markup.

So what is the big deal about Pathagoras

Document assembly systems are complex and require a lot of work, despite what some responders have said to my article regarding the Pathagoras system.  Would you want to hire a lawyer who went and grabbed a bunch of miscellaneous paragraphs, each time he put together an agreement for you … or would you prefer a lawyer who planned out several contingencies, and choose the options most appropriate to your situation.  Don’t get me wrong, something is better than nothing.  But don’t kid yourself that you are going to build a system that will save you “tens of hours” on a project by using Pathagoras.

Because the “hard coding decisions” are avoided in a clause based assembly system, the time you save in development is lost EACH TIME you do an assembly, because the user is (1) required to have a higher degree of knowledge of the system, and (2) the user will have to continually “repick” the appropriate clauses, and (3) because the clauses exist in isolation, out of the contractual context, changes in one clause, that need to be reflected in another portion of the agreement, simply don’t get made because the “distance” between the clauses, and the memory of the “unwritten” and “uncoded” rule rests with the trusted author.