February 07, 2006

Being nimble to a fault

"The Company" has traditionally not been particularly agile at creating new products, or redeveloping old ones. In fact, until recenlty the technical architecture was such that it was pretty hamstrung in its efforts to make the most basic of improvements to the product. Larger changes took a very long time to develop, going through a gauntlet of a rigorous waterfall process before eventually being released to the public. The technical constraints heavily influenced the way work was done, because when changes take a long time to make its important that they're the right changes. New products or improvements were modeled and forecasted predicting revenues for executive review and prioritization; products were designed with care (if with more focus on the bottom line than the user) and development was slow involving performance testing and a many QA cycles before release. We joke now that the company operated more like IBM than an internet company.

With new and astute technical leadership, the company has begun the steady march to rebuild the infrastructure - readying it for faster development. But, culture is slower to change than code. We still tend to operate with the same deliberate, beaurocratic attitude. Change is hard for any company and it never comes quickly or without a few shocks to the system. We are receiving those shocks by way of a few 'initiative projects' by senior managment setting an example. With these I'm observing an interesting dynamic, something not totally dissimilar to post 9/11 USA where those who dared question the wisdom of the government were painted as 'unpatriotic'. When culture needs to change and the agents of that change encounter resistance to it, they'll toughen their stance to see their will enacted. Subordinates who wish to avoid lambasting (and gain political capital) make 'yes' their favorite word... and those that challenge the new "wisdom" are deemed 'old guard' and bypassed.

And so it is that with the necessary change to make the company more nimble and competitive, skills such as Information Architecture are discarded like babies with bath water. IA means thinking and planning and that would certainly not be nimble... Consideration for making designs usable and scalable is brushed aside with the glib notion "We'll iterate". But iteration doesn't happen when everything needs fixing. More 'initiatives' are launched to fix other broken parts and the old initiatives are destined to remain in beta versions. Strategy (which by nature is planning and therefore also taboo in the new order) seems as foreign as focus is to a child with Attention Deficit Disorder.

With the best intentions, one dysfunction is replaced with another.

Posted by Ant at 09:44 PM | Comments (0)