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In support of boring software
Start with the end in mind. Picking a simple technology makes it easier to build. Read: “Everything Starts Out Looking Like a Toy" #171
Hi, I’m Greg 👋! I write weekly product essays, including system “handshakes”, the expectations for workflow, and the jobs to be done for data. What is Data Operations? was the first post in this series.
This week’s toy: The Time Travel Mart is a tongue-in-cheek homage to retail culture that imagines the future. I love the attention to detail and design in this shop. Edition 171 of this newsletter is here - it’s November 13, 2023.
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The Big Idea
A short long-form essay about data things
⚙️ In support of boring software
I am an unabashed technology fan and an early adopter of new things. As a kid, I loved (and still love) science fiction and super heroes. In these stories, amazing technology creates opportunities, solves problems, and is … never boring.
Compare and contrast that view with the real software and process that needs to get done every day. We need to solve the most important problems, not the hardest ones. Finding simple and frequently used process that needs to be improved is the most critical task for ops and engineering alike. It’s easy to get distracted by shiny things. It’s much better to incrementally improve the process.
What is “boring” software?
Boring software sets an uncomplicated goal and solves it. Instead of a AI-driven queue of the next best account to contact, it starts by being a list of the accounts that have not been contacted recently, sorted by oldest descending in a stage. Does this mean you would never use AI to find these accounts? Nope, it means that you evaluated the sales process and found the biggest benefit by making sure the regular process was followed.
Boring software prioritizes “eating your vegetables” before you apply improvements to get the next set of improvements that might not be obvious to humans. The goal? Help the humans using the software to get better.
From a technology perspective, this might mean using tried and true rather than the new new thing.
From the process perspective, it also might mean focusing on the specific items to be done instead of inventing something entirely new.
Boring does not mean ineffective
The core insight of boring software is that you can get beyond the specific technological whiz-bang feature and hone in on the activity or the behavior you want to reinforce or discourage.
Want teams to respond faster to prospects? Make a list of open loops.
Want to know which customers use which feature? Create a filterable list of customers and features.
Your internal customers are a good place to start for these kinds of improvements.
Finding the Improvements that make a difference
What’s the end goal of thinking about boring software? Spending more time thinking about the value of the problem you’re solving than the way you are solving that problem.
Building software is expensive, so it’s important to make it count.
What’s the takeaway? There is a fixed amount of effort to make any software. When you take away the choices needed to select new technology, it’s easier to focus on the task at hand. This doesn’t mean “never pick a new thing”, it means don’t let the technology solve the problem when a process could do.
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my 👀
1/ SEO results near me - Want to show up more effectively in search results? Include the phrase “near me.” If you want to take this to extremes, name your restaurant “Thai Food Near Me.” This is a perfect example of doubling down on human behavior.
2/ How round is that corner? - Arun Venkatesan explores the roundedness of Apple products, making a cogent argument that there are clear design goals inherent in these shapes. After you read this, you won’t look at consumer devices in the same way.
3/ Watercolor paintings - The U.S. government commissioned watercolor paintings of thousands of fruits in the 19th century. Thanks to the internet, you can see them.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon