“Trying to generalize across many problems is a fraught endeavor”

Adam Gordon Bell describes a situation in which a programming team has a tricky problem to solve. They ultimately solve it, but it attracts internal attention and a senior technical lead is sent in to ensure it doesn’t happen again. They propose a fix of creating a shared system that everyone will migrate to, so future problems can be fixed across all systems and expertise can be shared.

But, that hypothesis turned out to be wrong. Standardizing was a considerable effort that solved some problems but overall it made things work less well.

The map is not the territory.

So now, when I hear about top-down standardization efforts, I get a little worried because I know that trying to generalize across many problems is a fraught endeavor. What’s better is getting to know a specific problem by working collaboratively and embedding with the people who have the most tacit knowledge of the problem. Standardization and top-down edicts fail when they miss or ignore the implicit understandings of people close to the problem.

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