Complicated software allows people to control information

Anyone that's worked with me knows I'm sort of fanatical about Basecamp, the project collaboration software by 37 Signals. There are a host of reasons as to why I like their software for managing my projects so much, but the clarity that it can provide on a project is probably it's biggest asset in my eyes.

This has had me thinking lately though about why so many organizations choose software that's more complicated, complex, and often difficult to use. I think a lot of it comes down to the paradox that difficult software can also provide a lot of comfort. Why? Because the people that know how to use the complicated software get to control the information flow.

Complete clarity on the other hand can often times be uncomfortable. As I like to do, let's take a sort of extreme example. Everyone knows the health care debate continues to rage on. Imagine for a moment how differently things would turn out if every conversation, every deal, and every compromise - with everyone involved - had to take place inside a software like Basecamp. I believe there would be an entirely different conversation, and an entirely different result. Why? No information control.

Now I don't think in most organizations there's any malice intent, it's just that when things feel comfortable, there's little incentive to change.

The clarity that easy to use software can provide goes up, down, left and right through an entire organization. No one is immune to the impact it can have. Here again, this can cause discomfort. Take an example of a Marketing VP deciding on a new logo. After all the re-designs, all the back and forth, all the tweaking, if the only thing left to do is make a decision, and there's a task for someone to "decide on new logo", that might be really uncomfortable. It shines a light on the fact that there's not really any fancy process going on, someone just needs to make a decision.

Similar examples could be drawn for every area of a company. If you're heading up the technology department, it's really easy to hide poor performance behind a curtain of tech speak and complicated software that only your group knows how to use. If your sales people, designers, or CEO could easily look at an action inside any project and chime in with their opinion, ask a question, or see that the same task is assigned to the same person and still isn't done, how would you react?

If you're managing a project and every time a milestone was missed everyone in your company knew about it, how would that make you feel? If you could easily see every important decision that was waiting to be made, how would your CEO feel?

What this all comes down to is that even though the outside world has become ever more transparent, where everyone is a reporter, everyone is an expert, and everyone can review your product, many companies are slow to adopt tools that bring this level of transparency inside their own organizations. That's too bad because this is exactly what most companies need to be doing.

Ultimately, any organization would benefit by having complete clarity on their projects in the same way that we would all benefit if the health care debate was happening inside Basecamp.