Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Scalability - Size Certainly Matters. [Business Planning And Project Management]

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Scalability is one of the most popular buzzwords ever to be touted as a feature of software, hardware and all types of systems, solutions and resources.

Scalability is a practical consideration for every project - in companies and projects, one size DOES NOT fit all. The challenge is to find the appropriately effective solution to address the volume or size of a particular business. And note that scalability does not just apply to IT: it applies to virtually every system which will be used in a business in order to help facilitate its operations.

Thinking outside of the confines of geekdom, scalability even applies to such basic things as storage containers, pipe width, real estate square footage, the number of employees required to manage a business function (we can only expect so much production out of each employee), the amount of credit required to conduct commerce, HVAC capacity and dozens of other considerations in making business and project planning decisions.

It often requires a compromise solution between optimistic business forecasts (which have yet to come true) and the present level of revenues or volume of transactions (i.e., reality of the present). It might mean that the business or project requires that we start with one solution and upgrade to another -- but then the inherent magic of true scalability is that we don't have to buy new trousers [admittedly a ridiculous analogy] every time our waist lines growth an inch or two. A certain flexibility is built into some of these things (like the number of holes or notches in a belt) in anticipation of a change.

Scalability (whether it involves truck fleets or extension ladders) is a highly desirable aspect in any solution. Constantly upgrading, buying multiple units and the like are all expenses which detract from productivity and profitability.

The parameters governing scalable solutions are briefly outlined:

1) What solution (technically) will do the necessary job, at whatever size, without having the client pay for unused capabilities or capacity (i.e., excessive cost per unit of production or performance)? For example, it would be foolish to buy a 12 cubic foot container to store what generally amounts to 2 cubic feet of inventory on average.

2) Will the solution be so confining that it cannot accommodate expansion? If so, can it be expanded in scale either by A) stepped-up modules (i.e., by additional site licenses, gigabytes, or the like) or by B) easily increased minute degrees or recalibration? Is there adequate flexibility to permit growth, without de-installing the solution and replacing it with a different one?

3) If the solution is not truly scalable except by certain "stepped" increments of volume, is it worth purchasing a solution that is a size larger in anticipation of a surge of growth in production volume?

Scalability is about not wasting money; it is also, in a broader context, about the attribute of being expandable or contractible with the waves and cycles affecting business. The reason that Project Managers are generally retained on a contractual basis is that their duties (and their compensation) are required for a specific purpose and for a specific length of time. Retailers don't add full-time staff to their organizations during busy holidays -- they get part-time help as needed. Think as a retailer would: "How many gift-wrappers will I need in mid-August?

Every business or project plan needs to be thought about in terms of increments, phases and sizes. Yet, very few professionals actually give this essential application of scalability any acknowledgement.

A well-constructed business solution is like a vessel which can expand or contract depending upon what is placed in it.

Yes, indeed. Size certainly matters, but bigger (and more expensive) is not always better. Scalable is better. Most product and service providers use the term "scalable" the same as a job seeker uses the term "experienced" on his or her resume. These people don't even understand the significance of the words "scalable" and "scalability."

Douglas E Castle for Business And Project Planning And Management
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