This is one of my favorite underpants problems–partially because it has such a good name: how great is “PNL does not equal URL”? Catchy, geeky…it’s got it all.

So what am I talking about? It’s simple. People in charge of the profit and loss (PNL) for a chunk of a company are usually very territorial, for good reason. They want to make sure that they don’t leave their organization’s fiscal fate up to anyone else, because, after all, it’s their own job on the line. And what’s one of the ways to maintain control? By making PNL=URL, that’s how. In other words, if I’m in charge of a division of a company, I’m likely to want to maintain as much control as possible over how my division is represente on the Web. Which means it’s highly likely that I’m going to choose different types of interfaces and interactions than other people in the same company, because they are trying to solve somewhat different problems for the same-or different-customers.

But if I’m a customer, I just want to do what I want to do as simply as possible. I want to buy that thing, or find this info, or get some contact information. I spend my day interacting with all different kinds of companies, and that’s hard enough…every time I go to a Web site, I have to reorient myself to their way of presenting themselves. When I finally get oriented to a company, I really don’t want to be forced to continue to have reorient myself as I encounter different departments.

If I drive from Washington state into Oregon, I don’t expect all the roads to work differently, the signs to be in a different language, and the rules of the road to be radically different.

But if I surf to a site where PNL=URL, then my needs don’t matter as much as each manager’s needs to protect their turf. The managers aren’t really at fault…they really ARE responsible for creating the best possible experience for customers. But there’s a price to doing this in silos. While it may seem that customer experience is compromised if the site is ‘forced’ into some pattern of internal consistency, the truth is it’s necessary for the customers. I’m not advocating ridiculously strict style guides and arbitrary constraints–I’m advocating that there be some power in the organization given to a person or group of people who are focused on the end-to-end experience supported by a site.

Let’s look at some PNL=URL madness: vs. Amazon Media Library: one of these things is not like the other one!

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