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Thinking Things Through

May 3, 2013

In tech I often see people tackling a problem before developing a solid and complete understanding of the problem’s scope, nature or even root cause. What you end up with is a solution that’s quite different from what you would have designed had you taken the time to think things through up front. And it’s not just in tech. There are plenty of real world examples.

Bug-tracker Issue 117: Bird Poop

I once worked downtown in a building that was deemed to have a bird problem. The agency’s solution was to buy a system that used speakers to play sounds like that of the birds’ predator. You know, to scare the birds away. Well, this solution did two things. First, the area traded bird poop for bird noise. Second, the birds moved down the street to another agency’s building.

It almost goes without saying that pushing a problem around isn’t much of a solution. And between the fake cawing and the harping from Agency 2 down the street I’m not sure Agency 1 is much better off. Furthermore, what’s Agency 2 to do? Buy the same speaker system? And when the birds move to Agency 3 that agency’s to do the same?

Removing the Wrench from the Works

If Agency 1 or the agencies in general had taken a larger or longer view of their problem they might have come up with a better solution than the speakers. What if they had, hypothetically, studied the birds’ activity? They might have found, again hypothetically, that the birds came for the fruit or nut of a certain tree. Remove that one tree and the bird problem is solved for all. What’s perhaps most attractive about the tree solution is that it would solve a problem by removing a piece of a complex system, rather than saddling it with yet another piece.

Scare… Crows?

scarecrow 

I hear from my friends at Agency 1 that, in the end, the birds grew used to the noise of the fake predator and have now come back. So after spending time and money on a solution that mostly angered their neighbors the agency is back to square 1.

PS. In case you thought I could make this up, here’s a daily dose of bird poop.