Monday, July 6, 2009

Three Rules for IT Simplification: Small, Separate, and Synergistic.

The most important factor in building a successful IT project is simplification. Simplification means that the overall system should be as simple as it can possible be while still delivering the goals of the project.

In general, there are three rules you must follow to build a simple IT system.
- Keep it small.
- Keep it separate.
- Keep it synergistic.

Let's take a look at each of these.

Rule 1. Keep it small.
Keeping it small means that a system should have no more functionality than it needs to deliver its defined goals. Every ounce of IT functionality must be clearly traceable to the business goals of the project. If a function is not traceable, it should be removed.

This, of course, can only be done if the business goals are clearly understood. Usually they are not. So make sure that at the beginning of the project, the business folks and the IT folks have clearly documented each business goal of the system. And that every bit of planned functionality can be mapped back to one of those goals.

This goal is often at odds with people's desire to make systems "reusable". In order to make systems more "reusable", IT likes to make systems more configurable and more functional. IT often convinces the business that reusability is an important goal, thereby justifying their efforts. Efforts to achieve reusability almost always add unnecessary complexity, and, in the end, rarely succeed. Think long and hard before you sacrifice simplicity at the alter of reusability.

Rule 2. Keep it separate.
An IT organization will inevitably need many systems and these systems will need to interoperate. Interoperability is at odds with simplicity. From a simplicity perspective, the less interoperability between systems, the better. From a corporate perspective, the more interoperability between systems, the better.

You can see the conflict. It is important to strike a balance between these two objectives. Design as much interoperability as necessary, but no more than necessary and design it with as much respect as possible for the boundaries between systems.

Rules 3. Keep it synergistic.
One of the most critical issues, from a simplicity perspective, is how functionality is placed. Many systems suffer huge complexity problems because functionality that should be co-located is not, or, just as serious, functionality that should not be co-located, is. It is critical that functions be placed based on natural (that is, business-defined) synergies.

So if simplicity is your game, remember the three S's that govern simplicity: small, separate, and synergistic. You won't be sorry!