Autistic management software

I was talking to a friend today who’s turning into a manager, and using Microsoft Project to lay out schedules and the like. And I was horrified, given my aversion to such things. But he pointed out that it was handy for him to be able to point at his schedule and say he couldn’t do something because something else was a higher priority. Because the priorities had been placed into a concrete form that he could point to, his superiors accepted it without question. I commented that I couldn’t get past the poor quality of the abstraction that Microsoft Project imposes on project management, but that when dealing with people who can’t distinguish the abstraction from reality, it made sense.

Then a neuron lit up in my brain. The poor sense of social interface design that leads programmers to write oversimplified project management software is the same sense that leads to autistic social software. It’s trying to find the easiest instantiation of complex social cues into software. Simplification is inevitable – you have to simplify in order to function under the onslaught of information present in the world. But choosing the right abstraction models, ones that emphasize the relevant quantities, is essential. And maybe the ones chosen by Microsoft Project are right for some people. They don’t make sense to me, though. I like Google’s model better.

Not a deep thought, but one that amused me and I thought was worth sharing.