Saturday, November 12, 2005

Commodity, Integrity, Simplicity

In a previous blog-entry on the subject of perishable -vs- durable value, I wrote about how business value is depreciable and therefore the business value of a feature is a perishable commodity. I then went on to describe what I thought were more durable forms of value: Integrity and Simplicity.
  • I defined Integrity as a triplet of related properties: {Correctness, Consistency, Completeness}. Integrity is a property of a deliverable item such as a feature, a configuration or a configuration item. So a feature or item has "integrity" if it is correct, consistent and complete.

  • I also defined Simplicity as a triplet of related properties: {Clarity, Cohesiveness (Coherency), Conciseness}. So a feature, item, or logical entity is "simple" if it is clear, cohesive and concise.
I then asked the question:
What about "form, fit and function"? Are "form" and "fit" also components of perishable value?
What I've been thinking since then is that the perishable form of value is the extrinsic value that it is given by the customer. From the end-consumers perspective, what they perceive as the form, fit, and function of the deliverable is what makes it valuable or not. We might call type of value "Commodity" or "Marketability". [Note: There are several things I both like and dislike about both those possible names, so please comment if you have a preference for one over the other (or for something else) and let me know why.]

I suggested this in a posting to the continuousintegration YahooGroup entitled "Commodity, Integrity, Simplicity (was Re: Extreme Frequency and Extreme Integrity)". Some relevant excerpts from the discussion:
Commodity is customer-desired Form, Fit and Function. ... Commodity has to do with what requirements are most valued by the customer at a given time. I think maybe those requirements are in terms of "Form, Fit, and Function". Which requirements those are and how much they are valued is most definitely time-sensitive. When I add "commodity"-based value to a codebase, I am adding time-sensitive perishable value that can depreciate or greatly fluctuate over time.
[from Ron Jeffries]:
A thing, to me, has integrity and simplicity but is a commodity.
I thought about this. And I completely agree - that probably is the main thing that makes the word "commodity" stand-out apart from the other two like "one of those things that just doesnt belong" with them.

Then I think about it some more, and I think, maybe the thing that makes it seem so "wrong" when listed with the other two is perhaps what is so "right" about it after all. Maybe it's a good think to think that a feature (or "story") is a commodity.

Maybe that's what it is first and foremost (a commodity) that we should always keep in mind, and where the most direct value to the customer is perceived. And maybe those other two things (integrity and simplicity) are the "secret sauce" that make all the difference in how we do it:
  • Maybe the integrity is the "first derivative" that gives us velocity AND continuity at a sustainable pace.

  • And maybe when we throw in simplicity, that is the second derivative of value, and it maybe harder for the customer to see directly, but when we do it right, that gives us more than just continuity+sustainability, it also gives us the acceleration to adaptiveness and responsiveness and "agility" to overcome that cost-of-change curve.
[follow-up from Ron Jeffries]:
However, a bit further insight (or what I use in place of insight) for why it troubles me. A "commodity" is a kind of product with value, but it is a fungible one. A commodity is a product usually sold in bulk at a price per item or per carload. One potato is like every other potato. A story/feature, in an important sense, isn't like every other story/feature.

Thanks Ron for all the thoughtful feedback. You are spot-on of course. And that notion of a commodity as a bulk shipment or mass purchase of units definitely "kills" the notion of value I'm trying to get at.

I'm still at a loss for a word/term that I like better. Marketability perhaps? It's more syllables than I'd like, although there is a precedent set for it in the book Software By Numbers in its use of an "Incremental Funding Method" (IFM) with "Minimal, Marketable Features" (MMFs).

So to my readers that have read this far ... what is your take on all of this talk about commodity/marketability and "perishable value"? Are commodity, integrity, and simplicity each just different perspectives of form, fit, and function, where:
  • "commodity/marketability" would be the customer view
  • "integrity" would be the view of requirements analysts/engineers, V&V/QA, and CM
  • "simplicity" would be the view of the developers and architects
What do form, fit and function mean for software anyway?
  • Is it container, context and content?
  • Is it interface, integration and implementation?
And how should that all trace back to our discussion about value and whether that value is extrinsic or intrinsic, and whether it is perishable, durable, or latent/emergent?

I admit I dont have a lot of coherent thoughts here, just a lot of incoherent ramblings and inconsistent questions. Let me know how you think this should all make sense (or if it shouldn't).


Anonymous said...

How about: a commodity is convenient, current and cheap.

To me, 'commodity' is shorthand for the circumstances that affect the value of something.

I think we all care about integrity, simplicity and commodity to some extent, whatever our roles and whatever the product in question. It certainly helps to consider these three (9?) aspects sometimes, when we want to be more analytical about quality.

Do you think that "form, fit and function" are other ways of analysing the whole question of quality?

These words seem to express how some product could contribute to the simplicity, integrity and commodity of a larger system.

Thanks, this posting helped me to think about what is bothering me about some stuff at work...

Brad Appleton said...

Hi Bob!
You describe a commodity as "convenient, current and cheap" and as being "shorthand for circumstances that affect the value of something" ...

If those are true (and they may well be) then it's definitely different from what I'm trying to convey. I'm trying to convey what the things are that are valued. And I'm trying to get at the essence of which of those things have fluctuating value (rather than the circumstances under which they fluctuate).

So if that's the case, then it strengthens Ron's case that "commodity" is perhaps not the best word, and "marketability" might be better (as opposed to market conditions).

Regarding form, fit and function ... my suspicion is that they originated from classical Greco-Roman architecture of buildings and the writings of Vitruvius, who described "Utilitas, Firmitas, and Venustas" as the "three pillars" of architecture ...

Utilitas is usually translated as utility or function; Firmitas as firmness, durability, or stability of structure; and Venustas as beauty, aesthetics, or having pleasing/attractive form.

Perhaps I'll say more about it in a separate blog-entry ...