Move fast and break things – well, not really

Nothing shows the separation of the OG (Old Guard, not Original Gangster) and New Guard (NG) way of software management than that phrase.

It is the “throw things against the wall” concept that sounds so free to those who want to throw things – without thought, without restrictions, without accountability – that attracts many individuals that are chaffing under strict management. The same phrase sounds dangerous and unproductive and upsets those strict managers – primarily because they envision all the work to clean up the mess. “How can you possibly get stuff done with everyone doing anything they want?” they ask. The OG view of this is reckless behavior.

Both are right – and both are wrong. It is not just selection bias kicking in where each party picks what they want to hear, and while it may be different for consumer oriented software versus commercially oriented software, the argument still rages equally.

A New Guard developer wants to just build what they think they should build – it is the restriction by management that stops them from being creative and market changing ideas are snuffed out. Stuck in planning meetings is a waste of time – get out of my way and let me build!!

On the other side a Manager’s worst mistakes in the past is wasted time. In trying to get a long list of things to the market, discipline and efficiency is often the overriding goal. Efficiency means less waste and it is a dependence on highly likely outcomes that makes Managers play safe all the time. Rather than sound like something silly happened on their watch, they don’t let anything remotely silly even start.

The balance is somewhere in the middle. More freedom needs to be provided for the ideation and initial versions, but control and filters need to be applied when you really start to involve a large amount of resources. In this sense, they are both right.

Try something small and stop as soon as it does not seem to have future success. How to define what future success? Focus on a client related objective and have an expected outcome. You see – you can move fast and break things, but only if you start by writing down what you thought was the result you were looking for.

When a new creative approach to a solution for a client had an outcome that is very similar to what they already have and are happy with – the result is still a failure. If the objective is not met, it is not worth investing in further and the effort should be stopped.

But this is where the key mistake often comes in – if you did not write down what your original objective was, it is so easy to claim success if you can redefine what you were trying to do. You need to hold true to that original objective to properly reflect if you learned something. Even if that means you are now clearly wrong.

Without that reflection, you are just throwing things against the wall for fun – that is more a pastime, not a profession. Without that reflection you are wasting resources and allowing yourself to restate what your objective was after the fact to claim success. Without that reflection you really don’t learn. Without that reflection it is really hard for someone to tell the Boss that they are redefining the objective so that they can say they were right.

As a manager, you need to create the environment where the creatives are able to understand the client’s core challenges and then are free to come up with many alternatives to a solution – but we need to ensure that the solution actually is to the client’s benefit. We are not an Educational Institution doing pure research. We are trying to help our clients run their business and we need to provide tools they can use.

It is up to the manager to shape the environment so the objective is clear. Then allow lots and lots of small tests. Tests so short that they feel like they are over before they start. Tests that test only one thing at a time. If you are not taking many small fast steps you are doing it wrong. Here is where you ensure that when you start to put more resources on the chosen new solution, you are already going in the right direction and have confidence in that decision.

Moving fast is key, you learn at the pace you practice. But there is a reason Facebook changed their motto away from “Move fast and break things”. The key is quality product that helps our clients – but we all need to find the right balance between the old and the new – more chaos as the beginning and a lot of planning to deliver it with quality in the end.

Keep reaching,


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