Monday, January 18, 2010

Storytime with KISS and GIGO

My first experience with design requirements came in the third grade when a classmate brought her Dad into work to speak to the class. He was an engineer who worked at the nearby IBM campus and he delighted us with news about the future – in this case computers – that were just beginning their march into the desktop revolution. He tossed out a lot of phrases, and told us the many ways IBM would change lives with computers. All of this thrilled me in a Star Wars kind of way, but what I loved best was the lingo, the buzzwords and compressed phrases. And the ones that stuck with me all these years later? KISS and GIGO.

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid
Hearing from an adult that you could call someone else stupid at work, was of great delight to my young self. I’m pretty sure this is why I paid attention, though in later years I learned through experience that this is never a good idea. Everyone can contribute and it’s up to the leader to determine how to align folks to their greatest effect. But the core idea here is solid. Solutions, to be most effective, must be simple and elegant. The more complex a solution, the more likely one aspect will fail. Later in life, I began to apply this idea to all manner of problems from people to programming, with much success. When things get difficult take a step back and assess the current state. Simplification is likely in order. Make progress by simplifying.

GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out
In my boyhood mind, there were few things better than talking about garbage. Oscar the Grouch may have gotten to sing about it, but I got to talk about it without getting in trouble. Hooked again. Though his premise was a bit different, our friendly neighborhood IBM engineer explained that computers will only work based on the quality of instruction that the programs were given. Computers were not omnipotent, and could neither reason nor infer in order to derive a response. In order to execute properly, information had to be complete. So too, goes work life. How many times have you found information incomplete in forms, on databases, or on schedules where having that information is vital to the efficient execution of work? How many times has the job been sent back until complete data is provided? Probably not too many! At a minimum, there is a delay while the information is gathered. Though, in cases where work continues without the information, sub-standard or wrong outcomes are created. The lesson here is a simple one, if the desire is for an “uneventful” workflow, then all requested data must be provided. Not knowing, having a compressed schedule, or not enough time to complete the request are just not good enough excuses for wasting others time and producing flawed work.

From then to now
Shortly after that day in class, I began to learn programming, albeit simple BASIC coding. I learned to make requests of the machine and have it return expected results. I learned how to take my very long strings of code and shorten them to concise sets of instruction using improved, elegant, instructions which provided faster responses and was far easier to spot any coding errors. Later, I applied this technique to improve my writing and presentations from long form, to concise idea sharing which continues today.

Later I worked with a number of creative groups and learned about Design Briefs from DMI’s Peter Phillips. His excellent book, “Creating the Perfect Design Brief” should be mandatory reading for anyone working in a creative environment, as it cogently details the process of developing a deign brief that captures all of the necessary criteria for design projects. Find out more at:

Elegance, I have learned, only comes with awareness and education. The more I learn about my varied interests, the more I seem to be able to apply bits and pieces to other interests which have very little similarity. In, “In Pursuit of Elegance,” Matthew E. May tackles the challenge of defining elegance and provides approaches to capturing and sustaining it. See for more.

I hope you enjoyed the tale of KISS and GIGO and would love to hear about your thoughts or experiences. Cheers!

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