The devil is in the details

Whoever worked for some time with Murex must have heard that sentence at least once : “The devil is in the details”. So as we’re Friday and try to relax before the weekend, let’s put it under the spotlight and have a good laugh at its expenses.

The devil is in the details – What does it mean?

The idea behind that sentence is to say that details are important. In practice, people tend to use it to escape answering a question or request.
Let’s take an example of a request (note the 4 first words from the request, they set a mood):

– It must be easy to have a full explanation of my PL

Either you go with yes and you’re in for many iterations because PL explanation is never simple especially when the portfolio contains different types of trades. Top that with choosing the right time to close the portfolio and the market data and you realize it is nowhere near easy.

If you reply: “Must be, but the devil is in the details”. You more or less killed the request. The requester will then need to detail exactly what he wants and you’re more or less letting him figure out what is the next step. It’s a good silver bullet (especially on Friday afternoon) but should be used with parsimony.

The devil is in the details – The machine gun

The problem is that some people overuse it to the point that they dodge all questions.
In a 1 hour meeting, I’ve once heard it 4 times! That’s a lot. To the person’s defense, they were the wrong person asked. But the other party got annoyed as they could not get anything out from them and I believe that the meeting could have been much more productive by answering differently.

The constructive method

Instead of using that sentence, the best is to offer a path to solution. If you’re the wrong person asked and don’t know all the details, just point it out and propose to get in touch or to gather the information from them.
Similarly to the question about PL explanation, I would rather start asking about the details: “Do you just have this type of product in your portfolio?” or “What effects you’re after in your explanation?” Of course, experience is then needed to be able to drill into it.

I think it is better to show people that their request is not simple after all and they need to refine their requirements. As Murex expert, people need to see you as a solution provider.
And sometimes I even go faster where I actually accept the request but based on my knowledge I tend to know quite well what they want. If you can then deliver 95-100% of the request, you’re on your way to build yourself a good rep.