Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Artful Choice

While sipping my morning coffee in a Starbucks I overheard a building contractor say, “Good fast or cheap… choose any two.” I recognize this aphorism as a common quandary that binds all designers together whether we work on architecting buildings, developing software, or drawing illustrations.

So how do you approach an intelligent method for making that choice? It seems to be a decision that definitely happens early in the software development cycle, usually during the initial architectural and interface planning.

In a earlier post I discussed the other half of the meta-surrounds of a project; here we look at how to go about approaching choices that affects the first half. I will begin with quite a concrete explanation — a description that makes the process sound precise and analytical. Implementing it is more an art than a craft, and hence it is easier to begin by explaining its craft-like aspects.

Imagine if you will a triangle with each corner labeled: one is quality, one is speed, and one is thriftiness. Your project will end up as a dot somewhere within this triangle, but for now you just want to be able to draw a circle identifying the target area for where you wish to land.

To draw this circle however you need a side step to another chart: the one that maps your company’s strategic plan based upon its competitive position and the growth stage of its industry. The proximity to the thrifty vertex depends on whether your company is “harvesting” and winding down or if it is growing explosively in a new industry.

The proximity to the quality vertex depends upon how you are positioning yourselves in relation to your competitors, the talent pool that you can draw upon, and if such quality provides a material advantage at this stage of industry development.

Finally the proximity to the speed vertex depends upon the urgency of implementing your strategic plan, typically higher at the industry start and end-points than in the middle.

So now that you’ve got your general target the art kicks in: typically none of this is something that you can explicitly relate to your staff. Instead you guide the developers toward the circle within your triangle by your plans, attitudes, and actions: you try to instill the habits in them that will land the project at its goal. Good, fast, or cheap? Choose the appropriate mix.