Tag Archives: simplicity

iHeavy Insights 69 – Fewer Moving Parts

In a lot of different kinds of systems there are moving parts.  Electronics, automobiles, bridges and even living systems.  As it turns out in many if not most of these systems, the simpler designs tend to have various advantages over the more complex designs.  These benefits ring true in the business world as well.

Rock Climbing

Take the extreme sport rock climbing as an example.  I’ve been rock climbing off and on for about five years, though mostly indoors at rock climbing gyms.  One thing that you learn a lot about in rock climbing is safety.  There is a discussion of the harness, and how to double-back the waist cinch, and using multiple carabiners to lock into the rope, and then how to tie the rope in such a way that it tightens as it bears weight.  Both the person climbing and the person balaying – gathering the rope below – each have to take care of these things.  So generally they both check their own rope, harness, carabiners, and then check the other persons.

With indoor climbing this is all rather simple, and with just six checks for each climber to make, generally quite safe.  Plus there are monitors in the room watching people climb, and further checking for mistakes or oversights.  So over the years I’ve heard of practically *no* injuries in the gym.  It is so-called top-roping, and their are few moving parts.

With outdoor climbing you can do top-roping, however more advanced climbers prefer lead climbing.  It is much more challenging, and as I’ve described above there are many more moving parts.  The lead climber has to place “protection” into the rock every few meters.  These are special camming devices that grip into the rock.  Obviously all these components are not fool-proof, hence you want to add as many as possible.  But there are limits to endurance, and statistical averages at play, and more importantly many more moving parts.  So unfortunately lead climbing outdoors although possible to be on the safe side, tends to be much more prone to accidents.  More moving parts increases the statistical chance of a system breakdown.

iPhone

Something similar is at play when it comes to interface design.  With user interface or UI design, there is often a discussion of how many steps it takes to perform a function.  The more steps, the deeper the function is hidden.  Fewer steps means simplicity of design.

The iphone is a great example of this.  By simplifying the user interface, the machine works better.  At the Mobile World Congress last year Google announced that they get 50 times more searches from the iphone than *any* other mobile device.  Fifty times!  Think about that statistic.  This is more that flashy glitz and a pretty package.  This is a device that has fewer moving parts, not only in terms of buttons, but in the virtual interface components that a user navigates on the touch screen.

Internet & Engineering

Many of the same truisms that apply in the examples of rock climbing or smartphones also apply to internet systems, and the operations side of the business.  Can we use a web-services solution such a mailchimp.com to handle our email newsletter?  That means less to manage in-house, so our IT staff can focus on more important tasks.  Or how about outsource all email handling through a service like google’s Gmail for Business, or salesforce.com for CRM.

Simplifying your operations can also mean going with managing hosting solution, or better yet embracing the cloud with Amazon Web Services or Rackspace Cloud.   For that matter what database platform are you running on, or what computing platform?  Does it embrace the complexity and more  features philosophy?  Or does it strive for simplicity, and fewer moving parts?  And for that matter how many of those endless features are you actually using for your application?

Conclusion

As it turns out, engineers as much as business folks are wowed by endless features and the appeal of glitz and shine of a fancy new car.  But often in business what you need is reliability, simplicity, and fewer moving parts to get the job done, and get it done well.