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Letters to a Young Manager

The Conservation of Typing, #10
LTYM > Project Management

Dear Adam,
Why do we look more and more to computer technology to get our work done? It often seems as if the premise is that if it can be automated, it should be. We see evidence of this in the burgeoning features of what is often called "bloatware."

I remember a lecture by Brian Kernighan, one of the Bell Labs patriarchs of computer languages. He rhetorically asked , "why do we write programs this way?" And his answer, "The law of the conservation of typing!"[1]. Kernighan was referring to the building blocks of program tools that could be strung together to produce something new.

Under the cover of software systems is a plethora of modular pieces that are used and reused. This makes the whole faster to build and more reliable. The goal is to take work out of the building and focus on getting the job done. When we look at our business processes, we should think the same.

The conservation of typing means doing less with more. If its not faster and simpler to get the job done, we should rethink the system. And we may even decide to toss the system in favor of a pencil and paper--but that's a story for another letter.

[1] see Steve Lohr's discussion of Kernighan's use of "pipes" and the tools approach in Unix, in "Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists and Iconoclasts--The Programmers Who Created the Software Revolution," Basic Books, 2001, pp. 75-77.


Don't forget that computing is about taking work out of the system!

Discussion Questions:

1) How can you take work out of your latest project?
2) What pieces can be reused? What can you use from prior projects?

For Further Reading:

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