Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Reading :: Designing Delivery

Designing Delivery: Rethinking IT in the Digital Service Economy
By Jeff Sussna

Jeff Sussna and I follow each other on Twitter via a mutual contact, and I've been impressed by his insights. His 2015 book is even better. Although it's tackling something that I don't do—the development of software as a service (SaaS)—the insights are well aligned with topics I covered in my own 2015 book. That's because Sussna isn't just talking about development, he's talking about how SaaS makes sense in the context of larger changes in the economy.

Sussna lays down this marker in the Introduction, where he argues that quality in software development must be understood in terms of "how well the service helps its customers accomplish their practical goals and satisfy their emotional needs" and thus "the entire organization must align itself with users' goals. Only when it has a holistic understanding of itself and its relationship with its customers can an organization successfully co-create value with them" (p.xxi). Thus SaaS involves "continual repair" because "Co-creation implies that users contribute to defining solutions through using them. In the process, they generate new problems for designers to solve" (p.xxii).

With this foundation, Chapter 1 examines the turn to post-industrialism, in which the pervasiveness of computerization leads to a shift from products to service; from manual labor to knowledge work; and from stability and continuity to change and innovation (p.3). Sussna systematically examines these transformations, emphasizing co-creation (cf. Lusch and Vargo's 2014 book; he goes on to discuss their concept of service-dominant logic in Ch.6). He also discusses the shift from complicated systems (many moving parts, arranged in navigable and hierarchical structures; p.9) to complex systems (in which simple components have fluid relationships with many other components; p.10) and the issue of emergence that arises from complex systems (that is, characteristics that exist at the system level but not at lower levels; p.10). Complex systems, he notes, are prone to cascading failures (p.11).

Based on this foundation, in Chapter 2, Sussna discusses necessary changes in control due to the shift to post-industrialism. Cybernetics, he says, is a model of control through conversation (p.26); autopoesis, or self-production, provides a way to understand how systems self-produce and self-regulate (pp.30-31). The implication is that "living systems co-create reality through circular influence," via conversation (p.35). One example he gives is that of Lean Startup, in which a minimum viable product is rapidly iterated via continual feedback (p.35).

Given Ch.2's insights, he says in Chapter 3 that IT's new mandate is "serving as a medium for digital conversation" (p.41). He thus argues that post-industrial businesses must "self-steer through empathetic conversations," and he advocates a combination of Agile, DevOps, cloud computing, and design thinking (p.42). The rest of the chapter describes and relates each.

The rest of the book brings in other concepts (such as Jobs to be Done, Service-Dominant Logic, and OODA) to flesh out what post-industrial SaaS development looks like. Since development is focused on self-steering through empathetic conversations, it becomes inseparable from branding and marketing.

All in all, this little book takes a broad scope and pulls eclectically from varying sources in order to pull together a coherent vision of SaaS. Despite its eclecticism, its argument is coherent and well thought out. If you're interested in SaaS, or just what the future of work looks like, I recommend Designing Delivery.

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