Wednesday 3 September 2008

The Law of Conservation of Complexity in the Business

Last month, I wrote about conservation of complexity and how it applies to how we design systems. It's also a factor in the organization too, for a company to achieve a certain result there is a minimum amount of effort that needs to be expended by someone. Just like with technology, you can make it a whole lot harder on top of this with excess bureaucracy and orthogonal activities, but there is a certain amount of minimum trouble people need to go to. If someone (or some department) does less, then someone else must do more, else the result will not occur.

A big picture example of this is how adopting agile software delivery, and sticking to the triangle, changes marketing and communications.

One of the fundamental tradeoffs you might have made if you're using agile is exchanging [perceived*] certainty about what will happen in the future for the flexibility to make it whatever you need it to be as you move forward.

This means it's much harder to make promises about exactly when exactly what features will be available. You can usually hardcode a scope and get it when it's done, and you can usually hardcode a shipping date and get what's finished by then - but both are a rare luxury, the exclusive playground of those with deep pockets, easy problems, and a lightweight attachment to reality.

This is greatly upsetting to marketing departments, because their role is to get the word out (ideally in advance), raise awareness, and generally get people into the site. When they can't have what they consider to be some pretty basic information, like an exact date when everything will be fully online with all bugs banished to the ether, that makes it hard for them to ensure cash is rolling in from day 1. They have to smarter, they have to be more creative in how they get the message out and they have to work more closely with engineering.

I agree that could be easier (read: complexity for marketing could be reduced), but guess what? It's hard (read: more complex) for me to predict exact shipping dates, ferociously defend scope, and cope with all unforeseen technology and human resource issues. It has to be hard for someone, and to me that's simply the law of conservation of complexity at work in the organization.

* that one's for you, Ewan.

1 comment:

Ewan Silver said...

:) - who would have guessed that repetition, repetition, repetition finally worked!