Mission creep, getting distracted, and what the heck a keyboard needs with an LCD clock, anyway.
I'm looking down at my new wireless keyboard and I think that somebody, somewhere on the design team should get a good talking to. It's the second wireless keyboard/mouse combo that I’ve owned. The previous keyboard had very sticky keys, which if you're a person who types like a mad dog for a living, can be highly irritating, introducing unnecessary typos and reducing speed. I've been trying to justify buying a new set for a while and when my mouse started malfunctioning a couple of weeks back, I had my excuse. (Okay, I might have dropped it a couple of times. On concrete. From the roof of the house.)
I admit, there are things I like about the new keyboard. First and foremost, it has a lovely touch, letting my fingers fly. It’s Bluetooth enabled, so I don't have to contend with the little wireless transmitter taking up space on my desk and adding more cables. The problem is that someone on the design team suffered from attention deficit disorder, or maybe OS envy, leading them to add a number of completely unnecessary features to both keyboard and mouse while leaving out things that could be genuinely useful.
The keyboard sports a 1” x 3” liquid crystaldisplay. Why a keyboard needs more than a few status lights, I’m not clear, given that its role is to enable computer and monitor. Nonetheless, it has one (“I know, let’s add a display. More functionality!") The primary purpose appears to be to show the time—just in case I want to interrupt my work and look down from my computer screen, which already displays the time in the corner. It also tells me how many new e-mails I have in my Inbox—which, go figure, my e-mail application does as well (the keyboard also chirps when a new message arrives, in annoying counterpoint to the tone the mail application itself makes). The keyboard additionally sports a "calculator" button, in case I don't want to use my OS calculator, my smart phone calculator, my spreadsheet, or my cheapo stand-alone solar model. Or pencil and paper or my fingers—it can only perform arithmetic.
The mouse features a deep dip where the thumb goes, which makes it awkward to hold. In the center of the dip lies a toggle switch that when pushed converts the computer display into a three-dimensional side view of all of the windows that you have open. You can use the toggle to cycle through them, with the rearward window drifting off into blackness like the crawl at the start of Star Wars. I admit, it looks very cool, but the text isn’t all that easy to read except on the first screen and I already get the same functionality through my OS ("I know, let's add graphic file sorting capabilities. More, um, well, it'll look really neat."). More important, with the deep depression for the thumb, I continually find myself accidentally putting the display into Star Wars mode. The shape of the old mouse was more comfortable and the batteries lasted for six months at a crack versus a week.
I wish they'd spent less time on the geewhiz stuff and instead made a more ergonomically sound mouse design. Or add more programmability to the keyboard function buttons. Even better, they could improve their firmware so the mouse driver didn’t take five minutes to load on start up. In short, the modifications the mouse/keyboard combo add complexity, cost, and points of failure to accomplish tasks that the computer already does—while performing some of its standard functions less than effectively ("I don't want to work on the basic functions, that's boring. Let someone else do it.")
Looks like someone in program management lost track of the requirements.
Adding unnecessary features just because you can is sloppy engineering. Mind you, I don’t have an issue with redundancy in principle. For many mission-critical systems, redundancy is an essential part of a reliability strategy. I just don’t think a desktop clock counts as a mission-critical system (and if I suddenly can't see/access the clock on my screen, I probably have far bigger problems than needing to know the time). Admittedly, the keyboard is new and further investigation may reveal the display to have marvelous functions like acting as a portal to another world. Me, I just want a simple, effective keyboard/mouse.
You can't arrive at your destination unless you know where you're going, which is why setting requirements at the beginning of a development project is so important. The job doesn't end there, though. You have to manage the requirements and avoid mission creep, which can consume significant amounts of engineering hours without, in a case like this, bringing significant benefit to the user. The vow of doctors is first, do no harm. The vow of engineers should be first and foremost, get the job done. Or, take a cue from Occam’s Razor and choose the simplest solution.
Have you ever been on projects where your colleagues fell prey to mission creep? Where they got excited about adding functionality that the product or system didn’t need? Is your philosophy “more is more” or “keep it simple, stupid”? What’s your technique for staying focused on requirements and not adding unnecessary functionality?
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