Sunday, September 14, 2008

Refine, or Redesign?

The salesman in the Sears electronics department groaned. "I keep telling them that they need to replace this thing," he said of the cash register system. He was frustrated that it had strange behavior when handling the US Government issued discount cards for a digital TV set top box.

You can often make a thing better by modifying it somewhat to suit your needs. For example, you might move around items in your kitchen to make them more convenient. Or maybe make a few changes on your network to alleviate congestion or simplify the management. Or add a few new features to some software, or fix a bug/remove a limitation in the software.

But you can also get good results by restarting from scratch, and designing anew. The kitchen may be far too small to be practical. The network may be hideously complex, or the software laden with features that are no longer needed and having requirements that are hard to meet. (Banking software runs on as/400 systems. When is it best to provide one of those, and its staff, versus move to software that runs on more popular platforms?)

The Sears system has got to be at least a decade old. But it knows about a government program that started just a few months ago. Certainly it's being tweaked and maintained.

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