I was at a meeting outside work about two years ago. This local interest group were making the point that they should get what they want because when you combined this number with this other number, The answer was bigger than any other answer in the country. What they were saying was absolutely correct and no one in the room could disagree with them. Technically, what they were saying was correct but in reality, those numbers were not permitted to be added as for the sake of this story, they were in two different datasets. I left that meeting wishing that I had this skill. To make an argument by shaping language and facts into irrefutable shapes that were actually quite logical even if they didn’t actually comply with rules of law or common sense.
There’s another example of this kind of conversation shaping that is actually a lot easier to explain. I was on a sales call a week ago. It was going reasonably okay up until the Q&A at the end. It was then that I noticed that even when a feature that was request wasn’t supported by this system, the sales person started every answer with a posative yes and also finished his answer with a yes or a posative statement. Here’s an example: Question: Can your application support backing up specific databases. Answer: Yes!!! MSSQL is a brilliant database management system. I love that we can set the recovery model to simple and not full so that simple means circular logging so where an application such as ours doesn’t actually tell SQL that we have made a backup, the SQL transaction logs won’t grow to fill the database server volume. So yeah. That’s a great feature. I love that question! Clearly he’s saying that he can’t support that functionality, but his answer is much more posative. Even when his answer is no, it’s still yes.
So now I get to the reason for this topic, I had a conversation yesterday where someone told me that there was a discussion necessary where the policy decision of Innovation verses service excellence needed to be made. Did they want to be quick to innovate or did they want to provide the best possible service, up time and reliability to their end users. Well, of course, when this question is posed, anyone in their right mind is going to say that service excellence is the most important quality. By shaping the question in this way, the answer is already established. But it’s a perfectly reasonable question. Innovation and service excellence aren’t mutually exclusive aspirations. It requires planning, proper resourcing, good people, a clear strategy and methods of measuring and rewarding success. Sometimes, it also requires a bit of good luck as well. Why? Because things will break. Companies that embrace devops culture seem to be attaining a build fast, break fast and fix fast philosophy. This approach makes so much sense to me. Build repeatable scalable and fault tollerant services based on even more repeatable, scalable and fault tollerant infrastructure. Everything should be a template. If something isn’t automated it should be pushed out the door as quickly as possible. Anything that’s absolutely business critical that can’t be automated should have a very poor SLA to encourage who ever is buying the next latest and greatest solution to think more about how it fits into this modern ecosystem. I’ve dealt with a company recently that operates this way. I was really impressed by the speed that they operated at. Unfortunately, the person who had this conversation with me is highly intelligent. The other people he will be talking to are no slouches either. But I worry that he’s one of those brilliant people who shapes questions and statements that are perfectly logical and in the moment, anyone would be hard pressed to disagree.
To not call out my own bias here would be unfair. I am driven by innovation. It’s what gets me up in the morning and keeps me here well into the night. I am willing to acknowledge that the idea of service excellence may not hold equal weight. However, the mantra of the first company I worked with is still with me today. Exceed Customer Expectations. I worked with a company that instilled the principal of customer satisfaction with every encounter. So I understand it’s value. I also come from a family of small business owners so I know that the customer is the person that keeps the lights on.