Finding the Brown M&M

"He who knows how will always work for he who knows why." - David Lee Roth

I hate to admit it, but I used to be a fan of David Lee Roth. As in Van Halen, as in flying-through-the-air-spinning-back-kick David Lee Roth. The concerts were Epic for not only the music, but the aerobatics of the lead singer.

Legend has it that the contracts for a Van Helen concert were huge and complex, including detailed requirements for rigging the steel trapeze cables used for the aerobatic show. The contracts not only included this information, but everything you can imagine, down to the candy left in David Lee Roth's dressing room. In fact, it was so specific that it included the requirement that M&M's be left in a bowl in his dressing room, with the added requirement that all the brown M&M's be removed.

The first time I heard about this, it seemed to be consistent with the high maintenance narcissism of the lead singer. But this requirement served a very important purpose. In a typical tour, he may be performing in a different city every night. So if your life is on the line, how can you quickly tell whether the contractors have actually followed the detailed instructions laid out in the contract? Especially those terms relating to the cables you will be depending on to fly around the stage while you sing the lyrics to "Jump". You just look for the brown M&M's.  If you find them, you know you need to pay attention and the contractors probably did not follow the contract.

In the business world, we have our own brown M&M's to find. I find them everywhere around me in my professional life. I mean those things that make me want to drill down further,  question the assumptions, or think that someone has not read the contract. One contract, is that technology exists to meet the needs of the user or business, and not the career aspirations or interests of the technologists. If you see a brown M&M, its an indication you need to dig a bit further. 

An example of this I hear often is that an organization cannot move to the cloud because of security or compliance concerns. I once heard that IT told the business that they can't go to Google @ Work because it was not secure. Mmmm, brown M&M for sure, especially the word "can't". There may be many reasons you might decide against Google @ Work, but the word "can't" is not appropriate. I tend to believe in the saying, "there are no solutions, only tradeoffs".  The business gets to choose the tradeoff, not us.

As I dug further into this particular example, I found it was more that IT did not want to go Google. Office 365, onPrem Exchange, or Google @ Work all have their strengths and weaknesses, and the obvious winner from a purely IT perspective would be the option that introduces the least amount of change. The problem is that it really is not about what's best for IT, Development or Engineering, its about the business and the users.

Change can be scary. It can mean you get blamed for the negative experiences related to the change, your job becomes more difficult or is eliminated, your team becomes smaller, you have to retool to remain competitive in your career, or you simply won't be able to do the types of things you have come to know and love.

When someone tells you that you "can't" leverage the cloud because of compliance or security, use PaaS because its too restrictive, implement DevOPS, or use any of the other disruptive approaches and technologies out there, you may have found the brown M&M.