To survive, companies need to provide something valuable to their customers. To know what's valuable, companies need to get feedback. To get feedback, companies need to ship. And to do all of this without wasting huge amounts of time, money, and momentum, companies need to do all three of these quickly.
Let's talk about a strategy for moving quickly without breaking things or burning out your team.
Every company has its list of "we should" and "what if" ideas. In growing companies, this list often ends up collecting dust because there's so much to do that squishy projects like these get pushed back indefinitely in favor of more concrete, immediate needs.
Working on immediate needs puts out fires, but it leaves the company in a reactive pattern. This is high stress and can be demotivating, especially if the teams doing the firefighting wish they had time to experiment.
No one wants this outcome — so how do we avoid it?
Carving out and protecting time for teams to work on squishy ideas is critical for businesses to keep stay innovative and motivated. This time can be allocated in any number of ways:
- quarterly hackathons
- every 4th sprint is dedicated squishy projects
- one day a week
In a perfect world, teams will have parallel work streams: one dedicated to the well-defined, urgent, load-bearing projects, and one dedicated to exploring and pursuing the "what ifs" and "we shoulds".
To make parallel work streams sustainable, the exploratory work needs to happen within clearly defined boundaries.
And to that end, dear reader, I humbly suggest adopting the YEET DELETE REPEAT pattern.
Teams should aim to complete an experiment as quickly as possible, which means aggressively scoping down to test a single hypothesis. By limiting the size of the project, the team is forced to focus on the core of the idea, which makes it easier to nail down what the ideal outcome looks like and measure whether the project succeeded.
Then, using small test groups through feature flags, closed betas, or whatever channel the company gathers feedback through, the experiments should ship. Immediately. Like, the day they meet the minimum threshold for letting a real person look at them.
Just... please just ship it. Stop thinking about it. Ship. For the love of god. Yeet it and start getting feedback.
One of the major complaints about shipping quickly is that it creates overwhelming technical debt. I've worked in companies where this is the case, and I've felt the pain of digging into an undocumented weekend project that's somehow the only thing keeping a core part of the product functioning.
We do not want to create that problem for ourselves. Instead, we want to optimize for deletion — and delete our experiments by default.
To avoid technical debt, experiments should be deleted as part of collecting research. If possible, ship the experiment as an entirely separate codebase. Barring that, build the entire feature into one squash commit that can be reverted. No matter how you build it, assume that the experiment will be completely erased once it's complete.
Once your team has enough research to make a decision, delete the experiment. Add a production version of the project to your load-bearing workstream and include the research and deleted code for reference. Make sure the production project doesn't start with a mess.
If this process is set up well, teams can quickly ship experiments, then work on load-bearing projects while data is collected to validate the experiment. This means the critical work to keep the wheels on is getting done as well as the exploratory work that unlocks innovation.
It may seem counterintuitive, but creating space for an experimentation pipeline will increase productivity on the production pipeline:
- Rapid experimentation quickly pares down a crowded backlog, creating more clarity on which features are the most valuable to customers and the company
- Validated projects are more likely to be correctly scoped because discovery work was already done during experimentation
Even without these benefits, teams that have the autonomy to try things and influence the company's decision-making tend to feel more in control of their careers, which has the wonderful side effect of making your company a place that people enjoy working (for the BossBots™ out there: that means increased engagement, higher productivity, and lower turnover).
No process is perfect, and we'll all need to bring the nuance and context of our own companies into the design of a parallel workflow design. If we take the time to do it, though, building the habits, and processes — as well as the team trust and safety — that make parallel workflows possible will pay dividends across multiple areas of the company.
Plus, it's super fun to say: YEET. DELETE. REPEAT.
...did you say it?
See? Super fun.