The slippery slope of convenience in our digital world

the slippery slope of convenience

Intro

The term “the slippery slope of convenience” has many meanings and has appeared often in my recent discussions, so I’ve decided to address it publicly.

The slippery slope of convenience is a widespread phenomenon and, as usual, the majority of people affected by its consequences are not even aware of it. So, let me try to explain the different flavors within the context of our digitalization efforts.

If it works, don’t fix it

This old engineering saying is not bad in itself. Trying to fix the working system or app just because of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is never a good idea. But, there’s a darker side to this approach.

Many engineering teams, especially in long-lasting digital initiatives, are getting increasingly annoyed by the need for changes. They try to avoid the effort needed to modify an app, to add and change functionalities, to upgrade the technological stack so as to be up to date, and to continue to receive security updates. They also often create scary stories about whole systems breaking down or businesses unable to continue to operate in order to discourage anyone from trying to pass the change onto them.

The convenience of simple bug fixes while not taking any significant risks is slowly but surely degrading the digital solution into the abyss of irrelevance.

Complex and correct answers versus simple and wrong

Many of us crave simplification and would like to see a complex problem simplified on a single page or with a simple graph. “No more than seven bullet points” and “less is more” is what we’ve all heard before.

The answers are supposed to be fast and straightforward, yes or no, or left or right, however, the world around us is never that simple. The “attention economy” has created the false impression of simple answers available at any moment for anyone. Just ask the Redditors or look for another “advisor” on YouTube. To be fair, there are more in-depth materials that look at different problems from multiple angles, but many don’t want to “waste” their time reading tons of text or watching a lengthy video.

Looking at the business or IT problem from multiple angles creates so much ambiguity; there’s no easy one or zero and most situations lead to more or less painful trade-offs.

Many of us just want a quick fix, like a pill of information to take in order to make a decision. It’s sooooo much more convenient.

The only drawback is that these decisions, based on oversimplified questions and answers, may be totally wrong.

The convenience of faster reward vs medium-term reward

Evolutionary mechanisms have made our species dominant on earth. One of the reasons is that we can delay the reward, go through lots of struggle, and then receive bigger benefits later. Simple animals will always choose immediate rewards over the longer term, but more significant gains.

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior has become all too common in many digital initiatives.

In our current times, impatience leads to half-baked ideas and even worse implementations. Let me use the example of a Minimum Value Product (MVP). It used to be a minor iteration of a future product that was ready for production use as well as the gathering of feedback for future iterations that were always expected to come. MVP, unfortunately, has become almost synonymous with a prototype that can be thrown into the bin after the demo.

Spending more time thinking through the idea, goals, etc., loses people’s attention compared to something visible and even (more or less) moving.

The convenience of the visible progress

The pressure of early Agile methodologies, such as Scrum, to show something at the end of each iteration through time created a cult of visible progress. The priorities moved from the value delivered to the visible outcomes. This led, and still leads, to various problems and “solutions” like faking demos and mocking half of the system just to be able to “show something”. Why is that?

Again, it’s much more convenient to notice new colors on the screen or a different arrangement of the buttons than discuss complex underlying processes and algorithms of advanced business systems.

The final effect may be a new system lacking many features while looking much more modern and making a great first impression, but then becoming a business nightmare the day after release.

Turning the discussions and conversations into one-minute advertisements of the given build of the product is more convenient, but again, will likely lead to negative consequences later.

Final words

Breaking down complex problems into multiple sub-problems and solving them, then combining the results is an age-old approach that is still valid today and will be in the future.

Complexity cannot be reduced. However, it can be distributed differently and handled more efficiently. There’s no magic box and no bot or AI that will solve complex business and technological problems. 

The long epoch of Agile, especially in some twisted misunderstood interpretations, leads to convenience replacing the needed thought process which takes a bit longer, but leads to much better results. The focus on outcomes replaces the focus on value.

It’s very easy to get drawn into the trap of the slippery slope of convenience. As always, the first step is to realize and identify the problem.

The second step is to be a bit more patient.

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