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Jonathan Eccker for DealerOn Dev

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Quality is a Measure of the Problems You Don't Solve

We live in an era of infinite problems. Unfortunately our resources do not scale at the same rate as our problems. The big takeaway being that we can't solve everything.

An important assertion to have in a world with finite resources is that our usage of those resources should be efficient. This is what quality is, maintaining a high confidence in resource efficiency (whatever the resources may be).

We spend an insane amount of resources to maintain that high confidence in resource efficiency. The entirety of the Software Architect role exists because it's accepted that problem spaces evolve faster than our solutions.

There's an extremely resource efficient solution that's always been right in front of us though, and has no additional layers of resource consumption to maximize quality: Solve fewer problems.

Not Solving Problems

It almost feels silly giving an example of how to not solve problems. There's billions of examples, I actually find it very fun taking careful note of successful products and identifying the problems they intentionally don't solve.

But for the sake of this, let's talk Uber.

It has come a very long way, and solves infinitely more problems than anyone would have ever expected it to solve. But lets go back to their roots.

Uber was a black car service. They solved the problem space of on demand black cars with trained drivers giving you a ride from point A to point B.

A list of SOME of what they did not solve:

  • Tipping
  • Multiple stops
  • Transporting anything but people
  • Non trained drivers
  • Curbside taxi style service (think traditional yellow cab)

I am very confident that the technology was there to support those from the start. It would have been "trivial" to add a radio button for "Pickup target: Takeout, Person" to slap in an entire new User Story and make a few extra bucks. But Uber took its time adding features.

The end result is a very high quality product that solves exactly the problems it set out to solve, no more, no less.

Why Not?

The question "Why Not" gets used a lot more often than it should. It's by nature dismissive of the nuance of a problem space and is an attempt to bypass decision making or discussion.

When it comes to adding functionality to a product, it is extremely easy to think "Why Not?" and slip in extra low hanging fruit as functionalities.

What you will find is that "features" added this way have a high risk of being buggy or misused. They weren't added as part of a planned feature that solves a very specific problem, and will not get the support that other intentionally planned solutions have. This is a very active detriment to quality.

What problems should you solve?

There are a thousand decision making frameworks for prioritizing problems. I think the most relevant one to the software industry that also carries technical direction is Domain Driven Design. Microsoft does a much better job giving an overview of this than I could:

For those less technically oriented or those who aren't looking to pick up an entire architecture analysis framework right now, there are two primary questions to answer:

  • Why do consumers spend resources (time, money, etc.) using your product instead of alternative solutions?
  • What domain expertise do you have that sets you apart?

Answering those questions is critical. Products that aren't in line with providing value to a consumer or aren't being built with domain experience backing them are very likely to be low quality. These are excellent candidates to start opting out of solving (sunsetting their functionality, outsourcing to a team with more relevant experience, or switching to a third party system to provide required functionality).

It's not Lazy, it's Energy Efficient

To wrap this up, I want to make a cultural observation. We've grown up in a society that has an absolute phobia of laziness. It's understandable, the world has achieved an inconceivable amount in the last hundred, thousand, million years. No one wants to be the cog not turning in the machine.

What many have failed to notice though, is that this phobia has made us feel obligated to tackle every single problem that we come across. To quote Bo Burnham, "apathy is tragedy and boredom is a crime".

Going back to my first assertion, resources are limited. On some level then, we need to make sure those are being used efficiently. YOU are an extremely limited resource. Go ahead and be energy efficient.

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