Managing to Design

I realized yesterday that I almost didn’t buy my iPhone 5 because of a cable.

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Apple introduced the new Lightening Connector with the iPhone 5 and iPad 3 to replace the older iPod connector. The new cable is smaller and reversible, but unlike Android devices supports only the slower USB2 standard.

Lack of higher speeds and incompatibility with earlier peripherals are flimsy excuses to switch platforms. The write speed of flash storage does not exceed USB2 performance, and I don’t have any incompatible peripherals anyway. Maybe it seemed Apple was simply advancing their agenda of incompatibility with the rest of the tech world.

The event is a reminder how easy it is to fixate on shiny objects and small road bumps, and to take our eyes off the goal. Whatever our specific intentions, our broad goals are similar: to improve our lives, and to make our businesses more productive in pursuit of their goals.

Technological developments are important. Like Apple, we build technical architectures in order to maximize  current use of technology as a function of cost, while maximizing our ability to adapt to change, also as a function of cost. Good design considers both current and expected future use of technology.

In my opinion, one of our worst behaviors is over-responding to user requests that compromise a designed service. I know this statement is heresy in our “customer service” culture, in which “the customer is always right.” In Real Business of IT, Richard Hunter and George Westerman explain it this way:

In the absence of a larger design, delivering without question on every request is a value trap. Over time, setting up IT as an order taker produces the complicated, brittle, and expensive legacy environments that most mature enterprises have. It hurts the business’s ability to deliver what’s needed for the future.

Our colleagues outside of IT are not customers. Our colleagues are just that–colleagues. We collaborate with each other as colleagues to create outcomes that deliver value to the customers who purchase our organization’s products. Like IT, our colleagues in HR, sales, marketing, and accounting consider the short-term and long-term ramifications of their decisions in the execution of their services.

This is not an excuse or empowerment to simply say no to our colleagues. There are correct and incorrect methods to refuse a request, and our reflexive action is not to push back. One way is to explain why we do things the way we do, and to offer alternatives that meet the objectives without compromising longer-term objectives. We can also offer to review our modes of operation if they appear incompatible with changing needs of the organization.

As a Project Manager for a call center and data center relocation, I remember the back and forth discussions between management and construction, with me in the middle, of laying out the new facility. The construction firm held traditional mindsets, but did not blindly refuse requests. Instead they politely and patiently described the byzantine fire and construction regulations and the cost implications of various design trade-offs.

We eventually achieved a design that met most current and future needs. Whatever Apple’s specific designs, I prefer the Lightening Connector.

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