By far, the most important lesson I have learned over the years is that simplicity is crucial. You might ask, “What part of the business are you talking about?” Every part! Fight hard for simplicity in your products, web site, order processing, and business relationships.

Yes, you will have to fight. You will be fighting your own instinct to shovel more features into your products. You will be fighting your marketing people who want to create loyalty programs and bundling deals with other companies. It is fun to start new projects or add features, but you have to think about the constant burden you have created.

In our software, the simplicity fight is usually over adding features. There are always individuals or small groups screaming loudly for a special feature. If you say yes to all of them then you make a few people happy, but now your product is slow, unreliable, confusing, and takes forever to update. By saying yes to one customer, you are often harming every other customer.

Internal business systems are a crucial battleground in the fight for simplicity. I’m talking about how you accept orders, fulfill them, keep track of customers, handle mailing lists, accounting, and similar activities. It is very easy for these systems to grow into Rube Goldberg contraptions over time. Does the following sound familiar?

“How do we handle orders? Well, every day at 2pm Susie logs into our web server and prints out a log from the store. Then she checks each order to see if that person is already in our customer database. If they aren’t then she types them in. Then she types in their order. When she is done she pulls the rope on the fog horn. That lets John know that he should run his special report that prints out all the shipping information for all the orders. John hands the report to his specially trained monkey, which runs it down to the Production Department. There Kent types the orders into the UPS shipping computer which prints out labels to go on the boxes. He then packs up the orders and sticks the labels on them. See, it’s easy! Oh yeah, I forgot that then I’m supposed to enter all the new customers into our mailing list and transcribe the orders into the accounting system. I’m kind of behind on those things. That’s the big stack of papers on the corner of my desk. Please don’t touch that.”

That was life at Alien Skin Software many years ago and I bet you’ve seen something similar at other companies. Mostly this happens because individuals only see their piece of the system and their piece doesn’t seem complicated. It also happens because some people are scared that their job security depends on their part of the system remaining in place.

In the end this is all the fault of the boss. As the boss you should notice how all the pieces fit together and it is your job to kick the asses of people who stand in the way of simplicity. If you are really good then you will instill a hunger for simplicity into your coworkers and then everyone else will constantly simplify while you drink mojitos.

I’ve said enough for one article. You’ll hear plenty more from me on simplicity, such as in the upcoming article about business deals called “beware of foreign entanglements.”

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About the Author:

Jeff Butterworth is the founder of Alien Skin Software. He used to create the products, but now he does marketing and gets coffee for the programmers.


  1. Kelly Monroe July 29, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Words of wisdom….and sanity. Well said, now if I can remember these gems when the tempt of fate hits, a.k.a. but what if we added just a bit of this, or that…and of course, then some.

  2. […] = 'wpp-261'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};The following is an offshoot of the Simplify […]

  3. Negotiation | Alien Skin Software August 10, 2011 at 9:28 am

    […] but eventually I discovered a better way. As in other parts of business and life, just keep it simple and honest. I’m certainly not the first person to discover this approach, but it was new to […]

  4. […] our product architects, pointed out that there may be a fundamental conflict between the goals of simplicity and redundancy. At first I squirmed and tried to explain how they are not at odds, but he is right. […]

  5. […] 'wpp-261'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};Recently Jeff wrote an article about simplifying. With it still fresh in your mind, here is an example of the opposite. After this short video, you […]

  6. Death by 1000 Yeses | Alien Skin Software August 29, 2011 at 8:02 am

    […] of software has to be fixed and supported as long as it exists. Hello distractions and goodbye simplicity! Each project makes your organization a little fatter, dumber, and […]

  7. […] project much harder than if you had done it just within your own team. These projects are never as simple as you think they will be. Every one you say yes to slows you […]

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