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Snowflake Syndrome: when should we be unique vs. boiler plate?

One of the challenges we have in risk management, crisis management, and security management is striking a balance between customized and standard solutions. Customized solutions and approaches tend to be more expensive now (implementation) and later (maintenance). However, customized solutions resolve specific requirements. Standard solutions tend to be cheaper, but we don’t get exactly what we want. Our challenge is balancing requirements and spend to get the most out of our budgets.

When is good good enough?

Jeremy Stynes, Lootok’s CCO / CTO, has coined a term he calls Snowflake Syndrome. Snowflake syndrome is when someone believes that they are so unique they demand special attention and design - but reality is ... they’re not special. They believe their project/initiative/program is one-of-a-kind, a snowflake. The challenge of the Snowflake Syndrome is rooted in people’s mental models. People can suffer from the syndrome when they confuse their personal uniqueness, or desire to be unique, with the organizational program they are responsible for. It can also come from working in organizational environments that lack standardization and procedures; therefore snowflake solutions are everywhere. It is easy to believe you are a snowflake when everything and everyone around you is a snowflake. Snowflake thinking can lead to overly complex (unique) design and processes. Anytime we see inconsistent design or costly overruns the snowflake syndrome is close by.

A number of questions can help reduce getting caught in the snowflake trap:

  1. Speed - What is the speed (i.e., pace) and variability (i.e., dynamic) of change?
  2. Necessary - Is it necessary?
  3. Objective - What is the objective?
  4. Why - Why or why not? Can we use existing solutions?
  5. Forecast - How certain can we forecast? Take a historical prospective - Daniel Kahneman’s advice.
  6. Lifespan - What is the lifespan of the technology, roles, workflow, etc.?
  7. Attention Tunneling - Are we too focused on the task at hand and forget the big picture?
  8. K - Are we keeping the desired end state in mind?
  9. Expiration - What is the expiration date of information?

The goal of the questions is to balance and prioritize effort and budget. We want to apply the snowflake solution only where it is absolutely necessary. We build the snowflake acronym triggers into our program and project management process. Lootok has a handful of maxims and methodologies that are integrated in the way we operate, such as: Toyota 5 Why’s model, Procter & Gamble OGSM model, Lootok’s On Time + On Budget + As Promise © test, Lootok’s Repeatable Processes + Reusable Deliverables + Actionable Information © test, Lootok’s 5Ds ™, Lootok’s ODWR ™, and Lootok Experience Model. Below are quick overview of a few of the models to give you insight on how you can use them to: 

Use the five why methodology to determine the necessity. I love the “5 whys” philosophy developed by Sakichi Toyoda, which was pioneered at Toyota. It is also a philosophy my three-year-old son innately understands and skillfully executes daily. The 5 whys can be used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The main goal of this technique is to determine the root cause of a problem. Once you get to the root cause of something, you can better scope the issue and create a solution.

Another way to mitigate or minimize the effects of the snowflake syndrome is Lootok’s 5Ds ™: 1. Discover 2. Design 3. Develop 4. Demonstrate 5. Deliver / Deploy. We can break down any project or deliverable into the 5Ds. You can use the model within an agile technology development process or for a specific build such as a risk management or crisis management module. The process greatly enhances met expectation, reduce scope creep and over promises, and follows proper design protocols. It provides wonderful checks and balances built into the process to prevent a situation going off track. Each stage has approvals and sign-offs that provide record history of decisions. The mind is fickle and people interpret life through their own eyes and roles.

Use Lootok’s ODWR ™ model - objective defines deliverables, deliverables define workplan, workplan define resources, resources define price. We this model to scope work.

The snowflake metaphor and acronym are excellent considerations before we design, redesign, or implement a solution.

Snowflake syndrome