The Cost-Benefit Paradigm

There’s a pattern I keep seeing where organisational structure or segregation of duties makes simple tasks complicated. For a bit of fun I tried to define it:

The Cohen Cost-Benefit Paradigm

When there are two parties involved:

  • Party One understands the benefit of some resource but not the cost.
  • Party Two controls the cost of the same resource but not the benefit of it.

The result is that neither can decide if the usage of the resource is appropriate or not.

This happens a lot in cases where an infrastructure team manages and is in control of costs. Another team comes to them and requests infrastructure components, say some servers.

One: Hi, we’d like some shiny new servers with a load of RAM

Two: Why?! They’re really expensive.

One: We need it to solve problem X.

Two: There has to be a cheaper way. Why can’t you use solution Y instead?

One: No, we analysed the problem already, this makes the best sense. Can you just provision it please?

Two: Nope. It’s too expensive.

Then follows, debate, re-design and discussion that could have been avoided.

Note that neither party is being malicious. One is trying to deliver benefits to their customers, the other to keep their costs under control.

Possible solutions to the problem?

  • Improve Communication. This is more a fix for the symptom than the problem but would make the best of the situation and allow everyone’s concerns to be factored into the design.
  • Make one person/team responsible for both the benefit and the cost.

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