Good Enough IT -- better than Old Skool perfect
- 09 April, 2012 20:25
Are you one of the Old Skool types to whom detail and quality really matter? Where you strive for (and maybe rave about) the need for standards and are appalled by sloppiness?
Back when you wrote code, did you obsess about saving a byte or two? Did you put time and effort into bit-packing data so that things like configuration files could be loaded with a single read of a floppy disk drive?
While we all know those days are long, long gone (today you might, I say "might," worry about wasting a megabyte, but a bit? Pah!), those old habits that lead you to strive for a certain level of perfection may no longer be the best choice.
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Nope, for Information Technology in the real world of today and in common with many other disciplines, Good Enough is, indeed, good enough.
In fact I'd go so far as to suggest that Good Enough is the stuff survival is made of. It turns out that Good Enough is a law of evolution whether the environment you're looking at is biological, technical, social or whatever, because the goal is to survive in a "niche" -- a given set of conditions and constraints. Where a high level of perfection was once required, today too "perfect" a fit and you won't be capable of change when your niche changes ... as it surely will.
When many of us got into the IT business the niche was very specialized and we had to be exact, and as a consequence what we now expect and want is still that: things done the right way. It's kind of like we're trying to make bespoke tailored suits in a world that wants off-the-shelf, loose-fitting sweats.
Standards in IT are a great example of how great detail and specificity most often loses out to Good Enough. Where standards are very precise (for example, a fine worsted, three-piece with hand stitching, 44.5 chest, long jacket, 37 waist, 35.5 leg), there's still room for oversight and misinterpretation ("Oh! You wanted cuffs?"), which means we will still have to make accommodations ("Ack! We need more fabric to make cuffs. And a different pattern!"). The more complex the standards are, the more misinterpretation causes havoc when they are implemented. When standards are somewhat loose (as in sweat pants), implementations based on those standards will be more accommodating in the real world (they fit if you weigh 150 pounds or 250 pounds).
And this is not just a phenomenon of software and things digital, it applies to pretty much everything we do. A friend of mine (of Old Skool style persuasion) is doing business consulting with a company that makes a real world product and it drives him crazy that the people who own the company are so sloppy. The reality is (I keep telling him) that their sloppiness probably won't kill them as their competitors are also, to a greater or lesser degree, just as sloppy, and the niche they serve is in and of itself, also sloppy. All it takes is "good enough" and a little unpredictable luck and his company could win the market.
The fact is there are high costs associated with excellence -- the cost of communicating, the cost of adopting, the cost of managing and maintaining, etc. -- while the costs of "good enough" are usually significantly lower.
So, when you go back to wrestle with the IT beast in your organization take a moment to consider whether Old Skool perfection has a payoff that's as great as Good Enough.
Gibbs is pretty good in Ventura, Calif. Perfectly your thoughts to email@example.com and follow him on Twitter (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).
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