The OSS Mechanical Turk

The Mechanical Turk… was a fake chess-playing machine constructed in the late 18th century. From 1770 until its destruction by fire in 1854 it was exhibited by various owners as an automaton, though it was eventually revealed to be an elaborate hoax.
The Turk was in fact a mechanical illusion that allowed a human chess master hiding inside to operate the machine. With a skilled operator, the Turk won most of the games played during its demonstrations around Europe and the Americas for nearly 84 years, playing and defeating many challengers including statesmen such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin
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Wikipedia.

This ingenious contraption can be mirrored in certain situations within the OSS industry.

I once heard of an OSS fulfilment solution that had consumed a couple of years of effort and millions of dollars before management decided to try an alternate path because there was still no end in sight. There was so much sunk cost that it was a difficult decision.

The problem statement was delivered to a new team brought in from outside the organisation.

They had it working within a single weekend!!

How?

They had focused on what the end customers needed and developed an efficient self-service portal (a front end) that created tickets. The tickets were then manually entered into the back-end systems. Any alerts from the back-end systems were fed back into the portal.

It did the job because transaction volumes were low enough to be processed manually. The first approach failed because integrations, workflows and exception-handling were enormously complex and they were laser-focused on perfect automation.

The Mechanical Turk approach to this OSS conundrum proved to be far more successful. It doesn’t work in all situations but it could be used more often than it is.

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