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Defining Rules Vs. Guidelines, Errors and Empowerment

Cheat To Win (an excellent book) had one lesson that I think growing companies should pay strict attention to — something that is the true difference between a rule and an guideline.

The difference is whether you allow thought in a decision. In loosely coherent systems, flexibility will usually perform better than rigid systems.

Dyn - Rules vs. GuidelinesThink about a feature and its development.  There is a rough concept which is boiled into a spec that has a number of rules. As the feature is being created, a developer identifies a problem.

If this process is run in a rule-based system with the spec being the final authority (and a rule), it would be like lemmings jumping off a cliff.

RFCs — the standards that make up the protocols of the Internet — labor over the nuance of the words.  Should, must, may and others are meticulously placed and defined.  There’s a whole RFC (RFC 2119) devoted to this, also recognized as Best Current Practice number 14.

When you think about this process on a larger scale and if you are too rule based, you start thinking about your errors, false positives and false negatives (type I and type II errors). When you start making rules like this, your exceptions drive your rule making.

This article has a great description of getting these things wrong even with a small error rate (think spam).

Managers in fast growing companies have to be diligent about when to create a guideline which encourages thought and when to create rules which discourages thought.  Too many guidelines and there’s no direction, while too many rules makes robots.  The right balance is empowerment.

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Whois: Jeremy Hitchcock

Jeremy Hitchcock was Founder of Oracle Dyn, a pioneer in managed DNS and a leader in cloud-based infrastructure that connects users with digital content and experiences across a global internet.

To current Dyn Customers and visitors considering our Dynamic DNS product: Oracle acquired Dyn and its subsidiaries in November 2016. After June 29th, 2020, visitors to will be redirected here where you can still access your current Dyn service and purchase or start a trial of Dynamic DNS. Support for your service will continue to be available at its current site here. Sincerely, Oracle Dyn