July 2013 Archives

When I Say No, I Feel Silly

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The main point of making software is to produce things people want, right? But sometimes saying “no” is important.

I’ve noticed a trend when trolling Atlassian’s bug/feature tracker. There are features requests in there that some users (paying customers!) have been demanding for several years. My favorite example is a feature request to allow admins to disable comments on Confluence wiki posts. The response from the Atlassian employee is fairly sublime, and worthy of reproducing in its entirety:

After much discussion we’ve concluded we won’t be implementing this feature request. Our goal is to continue to simplify the product, by focusing on building for the majority of our customers. Whilst the ability to disable comments on a specific page or blog is a completely valid feature request, we believe it just crosses the line in terms of adding an extra level of complexity to the product and is a use case that isn’t catering for the majority of our customers.

This is a very diplomatic way of saying “Yes, that is a good idea, but no, we won’t build it”. Think about the focus it takes to say this. Some customers will consider this a “must have”, and so Atlassian is almost certainly leaving money on the table. But in the long-term, they’re not adding complexity they don’t want to support. Plus, they may not want to even have clients who can’t live without this feature, thus avoiding the need to fire them.

I have a favorite kind of chart. I’m positive it has a name among statistics people, but I call it the “Show me a line comparing yesterday to today” chart. I first spotted it on Facebook’s platform status page. Along with other system notes, this page shows two charts of statistics comparing the past six hours of today to the same window of time from yesterday.

facebook_platform_status_graphs.jpg

A Non-Expert Can Spot Changes and Problems

I love this flavor of chart because it’s easy for non-experts to spot when something is up. You don’t really need to know what the lines are measuring to see that “things changed right THERE”. Almost anyone can help monitor your system, and you’ve lowered the barrier for participation. People won’t be discouraged from helping because they aren’t experts.

People are lazy. When given a table of statistics and numbers every day, they eventually stop paying attention. It takes effort to interpret those, and if they rarely change, it’s even harder to keep doing it.

You can put a today vs. yesterday chart up on a screen where everyone can see it and count on at least a few people to glance at it daily, and maybe even raise the alarm if something strange appears.