Bloat is a function of time, people, and money 24 May 2006
21 comments Latest by Josh Ferguson
Why does most software get bloated? Time, people and money.
TIME. Time is an especially effective bloat catalyst. Just as evolution generally produces more complex organisms over time, the same thing happens to software. More features, more features, more features. Sometimes more features are the right features. And that’s good. But often software doesn’t stop at a little more and it ends up with a lot more. And that’s where time isn’t on your side.
PEOPLE. The more people a company has working on a product the more opportunity there is for bloat to take hold. People need to stay busy. Even when there’s nothing to do there’s something to do. And that something often ends up being extra stuff that isn’t really needed. Extra features, new science projects, more complexity. More people + more time can be a dangerous combination in the wrong hands. This is one of the advantages of having less people on your team: you simply can’t do more than you should. There’s a physical limit, a constraint, that helps you stay simple. Forcing simple is better than forcing complexity. One is better bedrock.
MONEY. This is more of an issue for traditional software than web-based subscription software. In the world of traditional software (read: Office, Photoshop, Quark, etc) the only way for the software vendor to get more money out of you is to add more stuff to their product. They have to add more so they can up the version number and wring more dollars out of you. Certainly the more can be the more you want, but that’s often true at the beginning of a product cycle and not at the end. There’s a point that more just ends up being more. Products with version numbers past 10, or products that used to have version numbers but now have years or letters, are great examples of too much software.
Be smart with your time, people, and money. The combination of these things don’t need to lead to bloat. They can actually lead to wonderful products. But the odds are against you. So stay smart and know the limits of your time, people, and money.