Granularity Rocks!

Framing Concerns into the Right-Size Chunks Solves a Host of Business and Technology Problems

July 17, 2003

How do you address thorny business and technical issues? Break them into the right-size chunks. When you select the right granularity to address any business or technical issue, the way forward becomes clear.


We see and hear lots of customers’ issues every day. On the surface, these concerns sound very different. They touch every domain:

Management & Organizational Issues

  • Too Many Projects and Priorities. We have so many things going on. I hate to let any of them go, but we can’t do them all.
  • Scarce Resources. We don’t have the money or people we need to get these things done. There aren’t enough hours in the day! We don’t seem to be able to get enough traction because we’re under-staffed and under-funded.
  • Management Obtuseness. Why don’t they get it? Why can’t we get a top-down mandate and support that would allow us to solve this intractable problem?
  • Organizational Inertia. It takes us too long to get things done. We’ve been working on this same problem in different ways for “n” years, and we still haven’t solved it!

Customer Issues

  • Demanding Customers. Our customers and prospects (or our end-users) have unrealistic expectations! They want everything for very little money and they demand a level of service and hand-holding we can’t afford to provide!

Technology Issues

  • Agility & Responsiveness. It takes us too long to develop and deploy new applications and systems. By the time we roll them out, they’re already obsolete. Shorter deliverables help. But working on 90-day projects makes it hard to evolve our applications infrastructure to be more flexible and responsive to our customers’ current and future needs. We need to step back and design for adaptiveness.
  • Technology Legacies. There’s great new, inexpensive technology out there. If we could start from scratch, we could build a much better set of capabilities today. But we don’t have that luxury. We have old legacy systems and new legacy systems.

Information Issues

  • Information Overload. My email box is out of control. Our intranet is a mess. I can’t find the information I need when I need it. When I do find what I’m looking for, I often don’t trust it. Is this the most current version of this information? Didn’t I see something else on this subject in another document/spreadsheet/memo/Web site?
  • Inconsistent Information. Our organization “publishes” lots of different kinds of information (marketing collateral, legal terms and conditions, price and parts lists, policies and procedures) in many forms (in print, on the Web, in contact center scripts) and in many regions and cultures. We are getting increasingly concerned that most of this information is overlapping, inconsistent, and out-of-date!


One method that we’ve found works well in helping our clients deal with any of these issues is to apply a concept that is well-known to technology architects, but not well understood: getting the granularity right! Everyone knows that in the face of overwhelm, you want to break the problem space into bite-size chunks. But what is often under-appreciated is that those bite-size chunks are manageable precisely because they are purpose-built, highly reusable, and extremely reconfigurable.

Like bricks.

Think about it, when you’re building a wall, a garden path, or a chimney, you can use bricks. Why? Because each brick is designed to be able to be picked up with one hand, while the other hand applies the mortar. Bricks are purpose-built to be used as easy-to-manipulate building blocks. Bricks are re-usable; you can make a garden path out of the bricks from a crumbling wall. Bricks are reconfigurable. You can use them to build lots of different structures in a variety of configurations, with and without other components.

Why is the granularity of bricks right? Because they fit in one hand, so that one person can do a construction job in an afternoon. Imagine trying to build a wall using pebbles or to construct a garden path by hauling blocks of granite?

Sometimes, depending on the problem space, you want to use materials with a different level of granularity. Pebbles are efficient for a garden path. Granite blocks are great for the front steps. Bricks are more appropriate for the chimney. Finding the right granularity for the task at hand is a useful art form.

How do bricks apply to dealing with organizational inertia, management obtuseness, customer demands, or legacy systems? To approach any of these issues, you look for areas of concern that are the right size to be able to pick them up in your hand, examine them, agree upon them, and re-use and reconfigure them. Like bricks.

In dealing with management and organizational issues, these bricks are most likely to be measurable outcomes.

For dealing with legacy systems, projects, and priorities, the most useful building blocks are services...

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