Simplification

As a consultant, I have to track my time. I have to track the amount of time that I work on every project in a single day. On days that I am not on-site with a client, I will jump from project-to-project across six active, busy projects. Tracking time is a solved problem. There are a plethora of apps, web apps, and tools that you can use. I won’t list them here, but search for ‘time tracking.’ I’ve titled this blog post ‘Simplification’ because I’d like to talk about how I track time.

The tools that I’ve successfully used to track time for the last year and two months listed: iOS Clock.app. That is right! I only need a single, built-in app on my iOS device to track my time. A simple, one function stop watch has allowed me to track all of the required information correctly, and accurately.

Stopping the clock, jotting down that information in our billing software before switching to a new task also gives a few needed minutes of respite from thinking. It is like eating ginger between sushi pieces. Cleanse the palate of your mind, figuratively.

But I digress, this post really isn’t about how I track time, or cleansing your palate but how we can all simplify our tools and still be successful, albeit less distracted day-to-day. Do we need a super-duper tricked out ZSH, or can a well appointed Bash do the same job? Is managing an entire directory of vim configurations better than using just the default code highlighting?

Progress will tell you that we’ve come to find that simplification isn’t needed. Amazon will sell you anything made, and have it at your door within 24 hours. While this an incredible service, does selling everything make them the best at selling everything? Is a greater scope of service conducive to greater quality? I argue, maybe. iTunes for instance is an example of something that is one-stop shopping, but it really doesn’t do all of those stops perfectly. Search for instance is a constant issue. Discoverability is also a problem.

What if iTunes was broken into iApps, iBooks, iVideos, iMusic, and each was given the directive to perfect that field. I would be willing to bet that simplifying each project, without affecting the overall feature set would allow Apple to create better, more useable products. As a side note, I realize that Apple has figured this simplification out at the hardware level, but not the software level.

Simplification is hard. It is difficult to do less. It is easy to add more features that will attract more customers, and in turn generate more revenue. I propose that we stop thinking of simplification at the macro-level, but at the micro-level. This will allow companies, like Apple, to have five pieces of software, which each is perfectly suited for it’s task instead of a single piece of software that misses the mark across the board.

Circling back to consulting, I see this conundrum often. We have ten features, and five developers to build them. Each developer is then required to build two features. This means that they will only be able to devout fifty percent of their time to each feature. Would it be better to do five features, across five developers so each can focus fully on each feature? From the macro level, you’d see that half of the work was done in the same amount of time, but from a micro-level the quality of work could potentially be twice as great.

We must simplify everything. Whether it is the tools we use, the features we must complete, or the products we are building, simpler is harder upfront but with the long-tail gains — success should be synonymous with simplification.

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