Tuesday, February 7. 2006
The amount of opinions you get regarding a proposal is inversely proportional to the perceived difficulty of the proposal
That is my wording of Parkinsons law, and for me it explains exactly why I hate meetings. In my time serving the Minds committee we had approximately 1 committee meeting. I am not sure if we even had one. Also during the development of the Minds website, I made sure that as few opinions as necessary were considered. Its sounds incredibly autocratic, but it worked.
If you ask someone for an opinion on something, they will automatically believe they have to have one, and they will make one up, usually a bad one. Then they take serious offence when you don't listen to it. If you didn't ask them, they will see the proposal and be glad with it.
The Ricky Gervais show had an interesting comment recently, A camel is a horse designed by committee. Its pretty much true, the stupidity of the decision is affected by the number of people involved in making it. (You can insert the usual George Bush jokes here, if you're that way inclined) Thats why I think projects like Google, Skype, Ryanair, Virgin and so on, are successful. They have either one or two people at the top who make all the decisions. No design by committee, no Thanks for your opinion, we'll put that on the 'backburner', no time wasted. Just decision and action. When you have smart people in charge that seems to work very well.
The story of the bikeshed comes from Parkinson, who explains that you can go into the board of directors and get approval for building a multi-million or even billion dollar atomic power plant, but if you want to build a bike shed you will be tangled up in endless discussions.
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I've read the Dan Winship email and the whole thread. He's right and he's wrong. He's right in the sense that design by committee usually dosn't work (I don't know any committee who have designed anything as successful and useful as a camel) but in the area of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) these things should be done slightly differently.
In FOSS you can have a project lead but peoples opinions only count if they're in the form of a patch to the codebase. Many people were angry with Novell for doing the Xgl development (the topic Dan was discussin) in house. It is possible in FOSS to do the development openly but not do design-by-committee. Bike shedding happens on mailing lists, design happens in CVS/SVN/Git/Arch!
I don't know Aidan, look as something as trivial as the latest icon discussion. If someone went ahead and implemented the proposed change, there could be worthwhile discussion, instead everyone seems to be quoting different user groups that they are trying to satisfy. Fundamentally mums and dads who are unfamiliar with computers are a dying market. The reason Apple, and indeed Vista are coming along with all the eye candy is cause they are targetting young people, who like cool technology.
What could Novell have done:
1) They could have asked for opinions, and then attempted to take them onboard. This would have put them months behind
2) They could have asked for opinions, and ignored them. This will probably cause ructions in the community
3) They could have said "We're doing cool XGL stuff, we don't give a shit what you think, we'll let you know when we're done". This would have got them where they are now, except there would be a lot of exaggeration about what they were doing. Before you know it, slashdot would be reporting that Novell had developed the worlds first 3-d desktop, and then Jakob Nielson would come out and say its unusable. Then when they released their changes there would have been a enormous feeling of "Oh, is that all?".
I guess they didn't want other peoples patches in there so early, cause they were still in the middle of writing it. I've seen many arguments over patches too, "i.e. this patch only changes a var name, whats the point" , then the contributor chimes back "because it makes it easier for others to understand", "How so?" , "well, blah blah". Bottom line, is that is time that was spent writing this super cool shit, instead of discussing it.
That is my opinion anyways.
"When you have smart people in charge that seems to work very well."
Indeed, but folks that can fill a role like that are pretty few and far between, so in the absence of them, you have to come up with some other method. Do keep in mind that for every sucess story like Ryanair or Google, there are millions upon millions of concepts that flopped, because the one person making the calls wasn't up to the task. Getting a small group of folks onto the job probably seems a reasonable enough alternative. Teams being greater than the sum of their parts and all that.
An example might be the current situation in Minds. In the apparent absence of any strong and decisive (or existant) leadership, Minds traditional disdain for real meetings is proving a problem. You don't have a Richard Branson type around, so the next best thing would probably be to get a few folks working together to try and make a difference.
I think the real problem is when you have groups of folks, and you get too carried away with democracy/equality. Ie, you have to have a means of drawing a line on decisions and conclusions, otherwise you end up with the situation you describe, where everyone's input has to be gone into in depth, a decision can't be made until every Tom Dick and Harry is in complete agreement, etc. That certainly leads to a godawful mess, the odakiM Incident being a possible example. Given that you can't summon Richard Branson and the like out of a lamp, the answer might be to stick with committees and such, but make sure they have well defined means of concluding a piece of business. Whether that's a democratic vote, someone who ultimately calls a decision, whatever, but there needs to be a means in place to draw a line under a given discussion. I think that's the main problem here, more so than the general idea of team-based work being a bad idea.
Well the minds disdain of meetings comes from people who aren't on the committee, so that shouldn't be a factor here.
In the millions of cases that flopped, if there was one person in charge who wasn't up to scratch, then I can't see the company doing well full stop. He may go and appoint a heap of other people, but chances are he'll make a balls of that too.
My rant wasn't really against teams, I have worked on teams that work very well. The rant was moreso against the notion of "throw the idea out there, see what people think". Tight knit teams work very well. Even looking at the minds committees I've been on, we've all considered each others opinions, but there is little point in considering the opinion of the masses, because ultimately the more people involved, the more time taken and the more noise generated.
I agree with you that its about having a definitive decision making process, and that any notion of all opinions being equal must be shitcanned before this happens. Fundamentally I think actions speak louder than words, its easier to be forigven than it is to get permission
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