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Plausibility rules

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This week’s profound advice: Be plausible.

I was “talking” to Quicken’s chat support. I’d been trying to add a new investment account — something I’d done several times without trouble over the twenty plus years I’ve used Quicken.

The quick and accurate diagnosis: I’ve been using Quicken Starter Edition. That feature now requires Premier. The last update I applied removed it from Standard.

If Quicken sold cars instead of software and I bought a Quicken Standard, three years later, during a scheduled oil change, its mechanics would remove the turbocharger because the Standard no longer comes with one.

Look, kids, when you sell a product, the buyer decides if its features justify the price. Having paid that price, removing some of the features fails the plausibility test.

Speaking of plausibility, I recently had to renew my Minnesota driver’s license. Minnesota was one of the last holdouts for the TSA-mandated REAL ID, so sadly, REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses won’t be available in Minnesota until October of this year.

But that’s okay, because in the meantime I can get an Enhanced driver’s license, which isn’t a REAL ID license but is REAL ID compliant. It gets better: An Enhanced license but not a REAL ID license lets me drive in Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda.

Terrific — I want one! Especially for Bermuda in January! Only … I’m sorry, Mr. Lewis, but here at the Hennepin County Government Center building in downtown Minneapolis, the Minnesota DMV isn’t equipped to provide these. To get an enhanced license you’ll have to go to the Minnesota DMV office conveniently located in the nearby suburb of Plymouth.

I’m sure there’s a logical reason for this. I’m sure some committee somewhere looked at the available budget, drew coverage map alternatives, debated, erased, and re-drew until the budget was exhausted and so were the committee members.

And yet, right there at the surface where people walk up to the service desk, this is utterly implausible. It simply makes no sense that the location serving the largest number of people who need driver’s licenses doesn’t provide the most complete set of services. No amount of explaining will make it appear remotely plausible, no matter how much actual thought and logic went into these decisions.

How about you?

Take a common approach to IT governance: For IT to implement a solution, the business areas that want it have to submit a request that includes the business justification. An IT steering committee of some kind evaluates the requests, sorts them into priority order, and decides who gets some or all of what they asked for and who doesn’t.

If you’re on the inside of designing this sort of governance it probably looks like it makes sense.

But imagine you’re on the other side of the metaphorical IT services order counter. You’re a member of a five-person workgroup, you’ve found inexpensive or open source software that will make the five of you, say, 20% more effective at what you do. You add up the time needed to learn the proposal process, fill out the required forms, and defend it at the next steering committee meeting.

It’s more time than you or IT would need to just do the job.

Only you can’t because IT locks down PCs so you can’t, and IT can’t because your project is too small for the steering committee to worry about.

The loud and clear message from IT: We won’t do it for you and we won’t let you do it yourself, either.

So you kludge together something in Excel instead.

It’s utterly implausible.

It’s also easy to fix, which makes the reality even more implausible.

The fix comes in three parts. Part #1: For existing applications, go Agile. Whether they’re epics, features, or enhancement-scale requests, they all go into the backlog as user stories. The product owner sorts them. Problem solved.

Part #2: For small new needs, the IT Steering Committee allocates pools of IT developer hours. Requesters “spend” out of their pool. See how easy this is?

Part #3: Information Security sets up an application screening group. When someone in the business identifies a potentially useful application, the screening group evaluates whether, where, and how it might pose a risk. The default is a green light, which is given unless InfoSec identifies and explains the risk, so the requesting organization knows what to look for when researching alternatives. Nuthin’ to it.

And that’s the point. Avoiding implausibility isn’t hard. As the poet said, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!”

That’s all it takes.

Comments (5)

  • I feel your pain. Back in the early 2000’s, Quicken announced that when a new edition became available users would have to upgrade or Quicken would stop working. It’s possible I may have misunderstood, but continued access to my account information was important enough that I couldn’t afford to take a chance that I had understood correctly. So seventeen years later I’m still using Quicken 2001. Yes, it still works on Windows 10.

  • Skipping the point of the article, I’ll comment on “Real ID” driver’s licenses. California just started issuing them this month. Passport..no problem, Social Security Card..I made the stupid mistake of laminating mine 40 years ago, so they won’t accept it. Of course, when I went to the SSA to get a replacement, they didn’t want my old card, Passport or Birth Certificate, just my California Driver’s License…..WTF ?????

    With respect to the Plymouth DMV, by then you’re close enough to drive out to Tonka Bay, chop a hole in the ice and stand next to your car and fish. Just watch the tension drain away (50 year old memories).

    With respect to the new way to do things in I.T., I was fortunate enough be with a 300 person company with me running the two person I.T. operation (Los Angeles). My policy was to always cut through the layers to the users and include them in the application development. No high walls to throw things over. Worked Great! Of course, it helps if you’re part of ownership.

    We sold the company in 2000, so there are many challenges today that I didn’t have to face. But with 30,000+ stores as customers, EDI, orders and invoices of 15,000 line items a day and an inventory of 40,000 SKUs, Payroll, Payables, Receivables, etc, I do understand the challenges.

    Keep Warm

  • “That’s all it takes.” Yeah, right. I hope you didn’t bite your tongue too hard while it was stuck in your cheek.

    Is that management speak for “And with that, let me leave before you start thinking about the details”?

    I get what you are saying this week. We do some silly things sometimes and we’ve got to be able to recognize that. If there is really only one group that is going to use this product or anything like it, then blocking them may make no sense.

    But in other situations those on the other side of the counter need to understand our perspective too. How many similar products are we going to have with different licenses to maintain? How much could save on costs with volume licensing? How much retraining are we going to have to do when someone moves from one group to another? How hard is it going to be when we want to get some common reports from these products and the interfaces don’t match (reference last week’s column)?

  • https://gnucash.org/

    Entirely different culture than paid software: software designed for passion is different than having some jerk standing over the developer(s) spitting in their face yelling “JUST SHIP IT!”. Anything coming from Intuit is one of these negative boiler room cultures. Been there, done that, never want to do that again!

  • Intuit, the folks who make Quicken and Quickbooks, did the same thing with Turbo Tax a couple years ago. Simple removed from the standard edition some functionality you needed if you were self-employed, requiring you to buy a more expensive edition. They eventually realized their sales had plummeted and restored it, but by then yours truly and many other folks had already switched to a competing product.

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