How many choices are too many choices?

Americans are constantly faced by a myriad of choices.  When we go out to eat we have to pick between Italian, American, Chinese, Greek, Thai, Mexican, Indian, etc….  Once you have picked a type then you have to choose between Applebees, Chili’s, Outback, etc…  The same thing happens on trips to the grocery store, picking a dentist, or what movie to go to.  Many times we sit and spin on making a choice about something that likely doesn’t truly matter that much.

In the technology world this problem continually manifests itself.  Most techies have probably seen projects where the project deadline was hit before all the architectural choices were made because too much time was spent weighing the pros and cons of the variety of choices available.  That isn’t to say that decisions shouldn’t be weighed and measured, but that this activity should be time-boxed and at the end of the time the decision be made based on the data available.  One common example I use as evidence for this is citing the variety of technologies used by the big sites out on the Web.  Facebook uses PHP, MySpace and Microsoft use ASP.NET, Google uses Java (I believe) as do many, many others.  The same argument could be made about what server OS to use, what database to use, and so on.  The fact of the matter is with good people most technologies can be made to meet the need.  The argument that many people will try to cite is the productive improvements that technology X will bring.  The problem with that argument is that productivity is very difficult to measure (many smart people have tried and I have yet seen anyone to trumpet a truly successful way to measure) and so that argument is easy to make, but very, very difficult to prove correct (and often not worth the cost of doing so).

The danger comes when the new technology of the day or moment causes continual churn in an organization.  The seduction of always looking for best of breed (assuming for a moment that there was someway to truly determine best of breed) is that you are then set up to become a technology merry-go-round.  Invest in your technology selections, build expertise, and go deliver value.  Choose to get off the merry-go-round and make a commit.  Change of course will come over time, but when it does it should be obvious and done for obvious reasons.  In most cases change should be made because it will be a game changer either in dollars saved or dollars earned or provide obvious (emphasis on obvious) productivity gains.

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