The name for our firm comes from a discussion that took place on the FreeBSD software developers’ mailing list way back in 1999. While the details are rather technical, here is the short version.
A developer proposed some rather simple and straightforward changes to the software code. This proposal resulted in a deluge of emails, arguments, counter arguments, and meta arguments. Angered by this, one of the core developers in the group decided to pen an email, which is excerpted below.
Why Should I Care What Colour the Bikeshed Is?
“The really, really short answer is that you should not.
The somewhat longer answer is that just because you are capable of building a bikeshed does not mean you should stop others from building one just because you do not like the colour they plan to paint it. This is a metaphor indicating that you need not argue about every little feature just because you know enough to do so. Some people have commented that the amount of noise generated by a change is inversely proportional to the complexity of the change.”
The sleep(1) [†Technical point in question. Trust us, you really don't want to know the details] saga is the most blatant example of a bike shed discussion we have had ever in FreeBSD. The proposal was well thought out, we would gain compatibility with OpenBSD and NetBSD, and still be fully compatible with any code anyone ever wrote.
Yet so many objections, proposals and changes were raised and launched that one would think the change would have plugged all the holes in Swiss cheese or changed the taste of Coca Cola or something similar serious.
“What is it about this bike shed?” Some of you have asked me.
It’s a long story, or rather it’s an old story, but it is quite short actually. C. Northcote Parkinson wrote a book in the early 1960′ies, called “Parkinson’s Law”, which contains a lot of insight into the dynamics of management.
You can find it on Amazon, and maybe also in your dads book-shelf, it is well worth its price and the time to read it either way, if you like Dilbert, you’ll like Parkinson.
Somebody recently told me that he had read it and found that only about 50% of it applied these days. That is pretty darn good I would say, many of the modern management books have hit-rates a lot lower than that, and this one is 35+ years old.
In the specific example involving the bike shed, the other vital component is an atomic power-plant, I guess that illustrates the age of the book.
Parkinson shows how you can go in to the board of directors and get approval for building a multi-million or even billion dollar atomic power plant, but if you want to build a bike shed you will be tangled up in endless discussions.
Parkinson explains that this is because an atomic plant is so vast, so expensive and so complicated that people cannot grasp it, and rather than try, they fall back on the assumption that somebody else checked all the details before it got this far. Richard P. Feynman gives a couple of interesting, and very much to the point, examples relating to Los Alamos in his books.
A bike shed on the other hand. Anyone can build one of those over a weekend, and still have time to watch the game on TV.
So no matter how well prepared, no matter how reasonable you are with your proposal, somebody will seize the chance to show that he is doing his job, that he is paying attention, that he is *here*.
In Denmark we call it “setting your fingerprint”. It is about personal pride and prestige, it is about being able to point somewhere and say “There! *I* did that.” It is a strong trait in politicians, but present in most people given the chance. Just think about footsteps in wet cement.
I bow my head in respect to the original proposer because he stuck to his guns through this carpet blanking from the peanut gallery, and the change is in our tree today. I would have turned my back and walked away after less than a handful of messages in that thread.
Uhmm, yeah. But what has all this got to do with websites?
It’s simple really. Over the many years that we have been building websites, we have found that every single website project suffers from the bike shedding problem. Everyone who has ever used the internet and is remotely involved in the project is suddenly an expert on websites, and would like their ideas incorporated into the final product.
“I mean how hard can websites be? Even my 13 year old (and they are always 13) nephew builds websites in his bedroom”.
There are a few problems with building your business websites in this way.
Feature creep is expensive.
The cost of a website gets exponentially expensive the more features you add to the project. What should have been a simple and straightforward website, built using existing off the shelf software, suddenly needs expensive custom developed software. Such a project invariably needs more people working on it, for longer. Salaries for good developers start around $40 per hour.
Feature creep does not drive more business
The features that are most often proposed on a website project, do nothing to add real value the business. We have all seen websites playing annoying music, and with widgets flying across the screen. Someone paid good money for all that gee-whizz stuff that you the typical website visitor cannot turn off quickly enough.
Feature creep leads to abandonware
Generally, the more features a web project has, the more likely that the project will be abandoned. While large companies can often afford to write of such projects, and build new sites, the same is not true for small businesses. Every feature, every additional page on your site will need to be maintained.
The content will need to be kept up to date. Unless you can dedicate full time staff to run your website, keep it so simple your 13 year old nephew can maintain it for you (when he’s not out playing with his friends of course).
Far too many businesses today still have websites that have not been updated since the early 2000s. Even where a business has moved premises, or changed their telephone numbers, these basic details remain unchanged on their websites.
And since these websites are still up and running, someone is obviously still spending good money paying for them!
Just as bad too, is seeing a web address in an advert, visiting the site on your computer, only to find out the site no longer exists, or has been “Under Construction” since 2005.
Big business can afford write-offs, can you?
Virtually every major newspaper in every country on the globe will have published at least one story already this year, detailing how the Home-Office or some other government department is considering scrapping a very expensive IT project. Usually, such a project is already way over budget, and cannot do half the things it was bought to do. While the millions of taxpayer’s money lost in such projects will occasionally make it to the front pages, the millions of dollars wasted annually by small businesses on expensive websites that don’t deliver, and are abandoned just as quickly, never makes it onto the news. It should!
The sad fact is that this happens all the time. It is happening while you are reading this. Someone somewhere right now, is committing to spend a lot of money on a website so laden with features and shiny bells and whistles they don’t need that the final product will be too complicated for them to ever use effectively.
If there is only one thing you take away from this book, it should be this: The more complicated and fancy a website is, the more expensive it will be, and the more likely it is that you will never use it properly, or profitably.
OK, but why *Yellow* Bike Sheds?
The feature creep highlighted above is also a problem in the ‘design’ of websites. Designers are expensive. Good designers are incredibly expensive. Insisting on a radically custom look for your site is the design equivalent of feature creep. It causes the cost of your project to rise exponentially.
Unfortunately, rarely does this additional expense translate to more business. In fact, it often achieves the exact opposite.
We have all been on websites with designs so radical you can’t tell the difference between what is clickable and what is shiny! Someone paid very good money for that.
At Yellow Bike Sheds, we take a different approach to website building and website design. To misquote Henry Ford, “you can get any Bike Shed you want, as long as it is yellow!”.
We build sites that are beautiful, and yet simple enough to be effective and get the job done. The colors on your site’s pages will match your corporate colors. This is probably worth repeating. We might be ‘Yellow Bike Sheds’, but your website you will have colors and a look that match *your* existing corporate image. The websites we produce for our clients are visually appealing, and still simple enough to be familiar to any visitors to the site. Oh yeah, you can change, tweak, and customize these settings to your heart’s content.
We have incorporated the best of what we have seen to work effectively into our Yellow Bike Sheds, while keeping both the complexity and cost of the website to a minimum. We build our sites using the award winning WordPress CMS, which is both extensible and themeable. When you are ready, you can add additional features to your site. All without needing to restart from scratch.
If you have the budget to spend thousands of dollars (sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands) on custom software, and radically custom designs, then we are probably not the right firm for you. If pushed, we can point you in the direction of more than a few web design firms that are happy to take your money.
On the other hand, if you want to get a website that can help your business get new customers, and retain existing ones, all at a justifiable cost, we are the right people to talk to.