Is It OK to 'MacGyver' an Intranet Solution?

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (28-Oct-2009)

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MacGyver was a hit TV series based on a resourceful secret agent who had an uncanny ability to solve complex problems and foil diabolic schemes conjured up by unsavory characters. He accomplished all of this using nothing but his ingenuity, his Swiss Army knife, and whatever items happened to be lying around.

MacGyver's jury-rigged solutions were born out of necessity. When he needed an urgent, often life-saving, solution to an immediate problem, he used whatever was available to him. These improvised solutions were not always pretty, but they worked and that's what really mattered. After all, when you have to stop a charging bear, who really cares if you trap it with an elaborate deadfall or conk it on the head with a dented can of chickpeas?

Intranet owners can learn a thing or two from MacGyver. In a perfect development world, you would always get what you want when you want it—regardless of any constraints associated with schedules and resources. But we're not living in a perfect world. Your ability to build that imagined "perfect solution" can be affected by many factors: Tight and overly aggressive schedules, availability of technical personnel and/or business analysts, or lack of financial resources. Or perhaps your ideal solution doesn't even exist yet.

In system development, want always exceeds ability and resources. So what do you do when the conditions are less than ideal? Do you sit in the rain waiting for the sun to shine, or do you seek the nearest shelter?

There are times when you simply need to make do with what you're able to accomplish with your available resources rather than wishing for something you don't have or can't pull off. You'll end up waiting for a perfect solution that may never come. And all that while, nothing is accomplished. An ad hoc solution, while not perfect, can solve some of your time-sensitive needs.

Given the choice, it's better to implement the proper technology or solution. Unfortunately, that's not always possible. When you're down-and-out and in dire need of a tool, a temporary MacGyver solution can be implemented to fulfill an urgent business need. But temporary is the key word here. Unless the improvised solution is flexible enough to accommodate future expansion, don't allow a solution that's meant to have a short lifecycle become an integral and long-term component of your organization's IT infrastructure.

The goal of these types of solutions is to fulfill an immediate need, not to become a long-term IT solution. More importantly, these jury-rigged solutions should never adversely affect your business processes or your business culture. If you have to alter your processes or your corporate culture to match what is supposed to be a temporary tool, your "improvised" solution could leave very permanent marks on your organization. Your staff will wind up building and unhealthy dependence on a tool that's less than ideal.

Although it makes a lot of sense to have a bomb squad unit inspect that strange ticking sound coming out of a box of "chocolates", sometimes you have to make do with little more than a Swiss Army Knife, a torn bubblegum wrapper, and a vial of monkey saliva.

Copyright © 2009 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
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