Three Simple Truths of Failure

The simplicity/complexity tradeoff is one that many ELN teams struggle with and is the underlying reason for most ELN project failures.

In an interesting post from Jack Vinson (a fellow CENSA alumni) lays out to three simple truths of failure from a post on the IT Failures Blog which in turn was inspired by Dilbert:

  • Complicated plans don’t work.
  • “Spraying energy into the vortex of failure” doesn’t work.
  • Your boss really doesn’t care.

The first is the most important in my opinion; and it is directly relevant to ELN projects. In my experience the more time a product takes to implement, and the greater the change in working practices required, the less chance there is of the project achieving the hoped-for Return on Investment. Which in my mind is a failure, even if you do manage to roll the application out and torture the users with it (aren’t we here to make life better for the end users?).

I’d broaden the last point to no one really cares about the ELN project – they care about its potential to impact their lives in a positive or negative way. If they really cared they’d be on the Project Team! This is a broader varient of my Toaster Analogy which when it comes up in Workshops often gets that kind of embarrassed “Yeah, that’s very true but it makes us comfortable so let’s move on” laugh.

There’s enough material around to show that complexity causes massive problems. There’s enough public literature around to show that IT projects often fail to meet their goals (and you only have to wonder what really goes on in private because who likes washing dirty laundry in public?).

Which is why I am mystified to see complexity still worshipped, with project teams brandishing their laundry list of features (all mandatory) and vendors explaining with great pride their multi-week implementation process. When questioned, people seem to honestly believe it has to be this hard!

Why can’t we find the quickest, simplest way to achieve the outcome we seek? Why are project managers so rarely rewarded for paring down the list of requirements to the essentials, shortening the project timescales, reducing risk, and slashing the budget? Why is it that products that “Just work” are somehow “Not powerful enough”?

I suspect the underlying reason (once you get beyond organisational politics and vendor sports) it is because geeks see value in intrinsic complexity. Which is fair enough – until that complexity meets the real world of people, budgets, and other projects.

Amphora are quite happy worshipping at the temple of “Less is more” because we believe that’s the best way to serve our customers. Seems that this view isn’t shared by everyone but that’s fine – the trend is in our favour. In this economy we all need to renew our focus on adding the most value for the least cost.

Oh, here’s Dilbert: