Complex technology projects, learn from Apple System 7 Blue Meanies

One of the most enjoyable projects I worked on was Apple’s System 7.  There were many lessons I learned working on that project, one of which is “don’t tell the whole development team to innovate.”  Because if everyone innovates, the system doesn’t work.

For all the years I spent working on Windows Operating Systems from 1992 to 2006, the last client OS i worked on was Windows XP, running the Technical Evangelism team. 

When Windows Vista (aka Longhorn) came after Windows XP, I recognized the pattern from System 7 pushed too far as Jim Allchin and the rest of the executives ordered innovation in all parts of the OS.  We saw powerpoints for features that had little hope of seeing the light of day.

One big lesson that worked well to ship System 7 was “Blue Meanies.”  Who are the Blue Meanies?  Here is the secret about box with the people.

System 7.0.1:

Help! Help! We're being held prisoner in a system software factory!

The Blue Meanies

Darin Adler
Scott Boyd
Chris Derossi
Cynthia Jasper
Brian McGhie
Greg Marriott
Beatrice Sochor
Dean Yu

What did they do?

While the Meanies have sometimes been characterized as the "coders of System 7", the Mac OS was by then sufficiently large that major subsystems such as QuickDraw and QuickTime were developed and maintained by specialized groups, and the Meanies primarily focused on getting the pieces to work together.

If you have a complex project where there is a lot of innovation which causes conflicts between groups when don’t work, think about creating a group of people whose job is to get the pieces to work together.

Some may call this architecture, but getting systems to work together many times require the skills of implementation, not just architecture.  The Apple System Blue Meanies did it all.

In your complex data center projects who are the Blue Meanies on your project?