Saturday, November 05, 2011

More Thoughts on Platforms

One of my very favorite books is The Systems Bible. It's a fantastic blend of parody, wicked humor, sharp insight, and thought-provoking truisms about systems. The particular genius is that the "laws of systemantics" around which the book revolves apply so well across so many diverse types of systems: political systems, social systems, management systems, business systems, transport systems, people systems, security systems, taxation systems, legal systems, computer systems and so on.

I can't recommend it highly enough.

Talking of systems, one of the very best systems practitioners I know left a comment on my blog post about platforms the other day:

When you say "You need to design this stuff in from the very beginning" ... I disagree. I'm not sure you meant it because later on you say "design ... with a platform mindset" which is (to my mind) quite different.

I don't know of many platforms which were created, from day one, as platforms. Platforms tend to emerge from successful products. Any of the things I've ever done that approached platform-ness started out as specific solutions to specific problems which after various rounds of a-ha! moments eventually evolved into platform-like things which supported the original solutions but also an entire class of solutions to similar problems.

If you start by trying to create a platform, you will likely fail. On the other hand, if in the course of building your product and iterating it into what customers actually want, thus making it wildly successful - if in the course of doing that you are "designing with a platform mindset", then you have a fighting chance of making the next evolutionary leap - extracting and then abstracting the platform from the product.

He's right, of course. And what else would you expect of one of the smartest systems guys around? My rhetoric went too far, and in fact his counter-argument is a simple analogue of laws number 15 and 16. So there's that.

I think the broader point remains, though: the best external platforms are built on top of solid internal platforms—and you'll struggle to deliver the former without first developing the latter.


Anonymous said...

Great post Isaac, also think that platforms are shaped if they're open to external developers by the people outside the company who think of different products and ways of recombining the data or mixing it into other data sources.

kumud said...

One could also apply the same thinking to 'reuse' - a beguiling but elusive ideal. In my experience, rarely succeeds through design, but through customer adoption and viral awareness. Irritating as hell for those of us who have to guide organisations, manage budgets and persuade lots of people...nevertheless pleasing to see when it spontaneously happens.