Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What if Gall’s Law were true?

Applying this concept to design ...

"An interesting bit came across my twitterstream the other day:

Gall’s Law

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.”

Yup, seems to hold for the complex systems we know and love: organic life, government, law, medicine…and of course Twitter.

Let’s imagine for a moment that it does hold. This would change lots of things, including much of the software world, which is laden with complex behemoths who frustrate us daily.

1. Building simpler software from the start
Obviously, if Gall’s Law is true then more teams would start out building really simple software instead of overly complex stuff. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to think that way. Instead, the thinking seems to be, if we’re going to be as successful as (X), then our system needs to do more than (X). But in complex, social software, that may actually be impossible, since (X) didn’t spring fully-formed into life, either. Most of the software people try to emulate quickly took years and years to evolve to where it currently is. (as an aside, my recent argument is to focus on designing to support a specific activity and nevermind emulating success for its own sake)

2. Meeting solid metrics before adding features
This is an interesting idea: make sure that your software works at some basic thing before you add features to it. I’ve seen on a couple projects in which there was a tension between the current under-performing software and the ambitious engineering plan that adds a lot more features. Which do you do? Stop and get people using the simple software first or push on and hope that people will come flocking after you’ve added a few more features? Well, according to Gall’s Law you get the simple software working first. My question is…are there teams who actually do this? Are there any that have actually said: “we have not reached our initial goals, let’s stop adding features and work on the ones we already have”?"    (Continued via Bokardo, Joshua Porter)    [Usability Resources]

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