I was excited to be invited by Scott Hanselman to do a podcast on Hanselminutes. It was my first chance to talk about The Infrastructuralists, and he's such a great interviewer that it brought out new ideas and ways to connect this way of thinking to everyday practice.
For those of you who are coming from the podcast - Welcome! Below is more background on Infrastructuralists, and I hope you're motivated to add comments, perspectives and feedback.
If you're reading our blog, check out the podcast on Hanselminutes (and check out his other guests too, they're terrific)
Infrastructuralism is the theory that applying modern software to solve societal challenges requires understanding that there is a dynamic relationship between the overarching technical architecture and the experience that humans want from that software. At its heart is a belief that customers and infrastructure are complex — not complicated —and the best response is to shift our thinking to prioritize adaptation, specifically learning, communication and collaboration.
But doesn’t everyone believe this? Let’s take a common example: a CTO of a traditional, heterogeneous IT organization faces a challenge to modernize their legacy systems because they’re losing customers to a modern, nimble competitor. Unfortunately, the solution gets reduced to a piece of technology, a process dogma, or hiring a unicorn. “Hiring a Rockstar Agile Ninja to push everything to the cloud” rarely is the solution, despite the litter of marketing copy on many companies’ websites and job postings. More often, organizations experience slowing development velocity, value-destroying integrations, and optimizationing for vendor convenience not customer expectations.
In contrast, Infrastructuralist leaders are systems thinkers, not reductive thinkers. Infrastructuralists know that successful solutions involve people, process, and technology focused on outcomes. The outcome that pays is a superior customer experience that creates value for both customer and company. Customers are not just external to the company, but they are also internal operators of that service — staff, workers, builders and maintainers. Finally, Infastructuralists know that they can’t predict every scenario, but they can create systems to adapt and respond to those scenarios.
What else do Infrastructuralists do, believe and practice?
• Measure: Infrastructuralists measure the impact of their solutions in terms of time and attention. It is the highest level of respect they can give to a customer or operator. They ask: Can we reduce the time to do a job, complete a process, or answer a query? Can we capture and release the customer’s attention so they feel compelled to ask for more?
• Context: They believe an ethnographic approach to customer development is required to make these relationships visible. Infrastructuralists favor context over focus groups to expose problems to solve, jobs to do, and feelings to address.
• Prioritize: They build problem hierarchies, start with the highest risk problem, and progress to solve higher quality problems every single week. Why? Because as we progress up the problem hierarchy, the infrastructure becomes invisible. Watch Truss co-founder Mark Ferlatte talk about how this worked at Healthcare.gov.
• Share: They share data to make progress visible, share process to shift builders and owners toward embracing Infrastructuralism without fear.
Builders, designers, customer insighters, engineers, and system thinkers: We aim to articulate what you’ve whispered in hallways, riffed over post-conference bourbon, and fought over in budget meetings. You’ve had your hands, code, sticky notes and pencils in this problem, but can’t get across the silos. You’ve been “onto something” for a long time, but been marginalized on the altar of “the way we do things around here.” You’re playing a different game, and the good news is you’re not alone.
You are an Infrastructuralist. Plant your flag, bring your insight and talent, and let’s start talking how to build this.