My in-laws live in a secured residency. To access their apartment you have to waive a token on a first door, then enter a code on a second door. They are on the last floor of their building, which contains 3 apartments: theirs, a small loft they own and where we stay when we visit them, and a third apartment where nobody lives. They are in one of the safest area of France, where probability of robbery is lesser than 0.3%. There has been no robbery for the past few years as they recall.
And yet, whenever we need to get something in the loft where we stay from the apartment where they live, even for a minute, we have to lock the door of the apartment. Because we never know. They also close the door to their parking spots where they keep two 10-to-15 years old cars, with nothing in these. I can get that last bit, my grandfather’s parking lot got broken into a long time ago. People broke his car’s window, forced his door, looked for valuables and finding none, shat on the seats for the worry.
This is what I call the Solution First approach: applying a solution without finding out if there actually is a need for the solution altogether. When it simply comes to closing a door, it seems pretty harmless to apply the damn solution, but it is actually painful on two levels: you need to use keys all the time, even to get your phone 15 meters away, and mostly it is degrading my relationship with my mother in law, because it pains me so much when I leave the door shut, but not locked, leave for less than a minute, and come back to find it locked. Anyway.
It’s astonishing how much we can encounter this problem all around the place, at work or everywhere else. A company I used to work for was cramped up with complex technologies selected based on sexiness, that were completely useless, not adapted. This result in unmaintainable software. Don’t get me started on “best practices” people can’t justify.
I’ve been working on a $4M project, the first $2M were to justify the project itself by post-rationalizing the decisions to the board. The last $2M were to plan the actual implementation. Did I tell that it was a plain technical solution without an actual need calling for it? The actual implementation never started.
I’ve seen it in “strategies” where the goal is defined as “having the best UI” rather than “trying to address this or that segment of customers where our competition is weaker”. The effects on results are harder to prove because the relation is less direct, what is undeniable is a focus set on the product rather than the market, making things fuzzy for both internal team and clients. I’ve been asked a reporting from an executive manager on raw number of bugs to get an idea of the quality. 72 is the answer, try to make something out of it. France has been increasing the number of speed-traps and reducing speed limits for 10 years exponentially. The first 3 years, number of deaths went down a lot, then slower, justifying an acceleration of deployment. There were more deaths on the road last year than the year before, which means that effectively the solution is not working anymore. They want to add more speed traps and reduce the speed limits because that is apparently the only thing you can do for road safety.
Root cause I see for putting solutions first are quite reduced: it is appealing to your geeky side, everybody does it, you’ve always been doing it, you don’t know what else to do, it’s plain common sense, or it’s simply easier to do things without thinking. The thing is, as long as you did not answer the question “why”, you’ll never be able to provide a correct answer to the question “how”. Even for MVPs, which could stand as a good occurrence of solution first, you can’t have a successful MVP if you don’t know what you’re trying to determine with it. Seems fairly basic, and then, even some C-levels seem to ignore it sometimes. As for locking cars, you could think a solution would be to get more secured doors, a stronger car, or even patrolling and CCTV. What you want to prevent is getting a window broken and the seat shat upon. From this point on, my grandfather always left his car unlocked, with a $5 bill in it. Others occasionally got their doors forced, he lost $5 a couple of times. Your call.