Towards a general H4 platform

Towards a general H4 platform

Part I: System design

Starts with a goal

Drive 6mm phillips screws as cheap as possible. Finish fast.

Goals are the ultimate gauge for your design.

They set the basic engineering constraints.

They set apart good from bad design.

Quality is never a goal.

It's part of your culture. It's what you're willing to settle for.


Entire systems built to do one job.

Very efficient and cheap to build.

Certain functional aesthetic to them.

Hard to maintain. Almost impossible to repurpose.

This screwdriver is the first product to market. An elegant design that does the job. It makes us money.


Now that we're in the screwing business ...

New Goal: Drive all these screws. Make it cheap and fast.

Option A: Build a different monolith for each.

Option B: Make an abstraction. Innovate.

Modular Design

Abstractions allow for:

Design economies:

Exponential reduction in complexity.

Specialization: "Handle team", "Chuck Team", "Screw Bit Team"

Usage economies:

Multifunctional tool -> easy repurposing.

Replaceable parts -> easy maintenance.

However ...

Wrong abstractions have a huge cost.

This screwdriver assumes users have hands. Adapting it for machine use would require discarding the entire handle.

Pluggable arcitecture somewhat mitigates this by allowing you to make the wrong abstraction as a plugin. For instance, screw bit that is a spoon.

You still need to get the framework and plugin interface right.

A story follows ->

And sure enough ...

All abstractions are wrong to some degree.


Hey! I find your handle very nice to grip. I would pay you $3M if I could use this as a soldering iron too.

This is the life of a consultancy business...

First iteration

Reengineer the entire handle to house a heater.

Product points out that cord needs to be detachable in order to twist the handle.

After you're done, client says:

Oh, I forgot to mention - I really need to screw while soldering!

Suddenly you feel the enlightenment of a thousand user stories.

Second iteration

Reengineer the entire handle to house a motor.

Reengineer the entire chuck so it can rotate.

Some wise guy:

Hey, since this thing has a motor, can we also make it a drill? You just bend the handle a bit...


Lessons Learned

Abstractions are an investment.

They make up most of the engineering.

Abandoning them is very expensive.

But good ones, just as investments, make you rich.

Part II: The H4 Platform

The goal

Basically, deliver any documentation use case.


Because of the Zero/One/Infinity rule.

But, seriously, we're not gonna stop at one use case...

The challenge

There are quite a bit of differences between use cases.

The plan

Each use case is a "data point" that will enable us to generalize.

We will conceptually split the platform into the "core framework" and "plugins".

There's an incredible amount of business analysis required to deliver a use case. We want to confine this to specialized teams and in the future outsource it to third parties.

Scaling complexity is the most important kind of scaling.

Reducing the need for communication between teams is key.

What we are building

Meet Key-Rex

A tamper-resistant screw with an exclusive-to-you pattern, never in stores, used to secure ballot boxes. Patented by Bryce Fastener Inc. ...


Caring costs time and money...

We want to abstract away the client's custom needs and give them tools to develop their own screws and screw bits.

Dear Bryce Fastener Inc.

We don't care about Key-Rex. We are busy with "Handle 2.0". Help yourself with the lathe or pay someone else to make your screw bits.

The handle will cost you $100. Or, in the true spirit of Cloud Capitalism, the handle is also free, but we charge $1 per twist.

The End