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Talent Strutting


If the newest software you own leaves you scratching your head or cursing with frustration, you are not alone. It seems that our most current crop of software designers are creating products that are much too complex to be user-friendly and they're doing it to advance their careers. That means that caveat emptor is the definite order of the day for the poor schnooks forced to contend with programs designed with an eye toward advancing a designer's career rather than toward serving the customer. This is according to Enno Siemsen of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, who published the results of a study, "The Hidden Perils of Career Concerns in R&D Organizations," for the Management Insights section of the May 2008 issue of Management Science.

Not About Technology

Software companies have ended up embroiled in the hassles of dealing with product design projects that creep up the scale on a constant incremental basis in both difficulty and complexity. If you thought that this was due to the continued growth of technology, you were wrong. The reason that software is getting harder and harder to understand and use is much more pragmatic than that. It's all about the career advancement of the product designers, who have ample incentive to choose a difficult design over a simple one in their bid to get ahead.

Here's how it works: the best and most capable designers want to prove themselves by choosing a more difficult design, while at the bottom of the pile, we have the not-so-great designers, trying to hide the fact that they're not the brightest bulbs in the box by weaving intricate mazes in the software they design in an effort to hide the trail of their less than stellar abilities, or so concludes Prof. Siemsen.

Siemsen proposes that software companies must remove these incentives that lead to head-scratching merchandise by changing company policy. That would entail changing the orientation of companies from that of long-term career success toward a more immediate compensatory situation in which design teams would be rewarded for the proven success of their products; for instance, a scheme of bonuses.

Siemsen suggests that in addition to the bonus scheme, a careful study of the data on projected design outcome may prevent products of an overweening complexity from being initiated. The report also suggests that managers who take an interest in the success of the company and who have technological know-how might prepare regular evaluations of the product designers to keep them on their toes.


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