We’re Fast, We’re Not Cheap, But Are We Good?

Using the software term Sprint Velocity, I’ve mistaken Velocity for Speed for several years. Truth is, when I think of a treadmill, I might be confused about Speed too.

Speed and direction define Velocity. On the dashboards the software community is so enamored with, at best, we depict speed. Direction is mysteriously absent without leave (AWOL).

With Direction AWOL…

If you don’t know where you are going, it’s easy to iteratively not get there.
       ~David Hussman, 5:40 PM Nov 3rd, 2009 from TweetDeck

Good at Delivery, But Not-So-Good at Discovery

I have programmed with development teams that range from pretty good to pretty stellar vis-à-vis rapid incremental product delivery. But the products we built could have been better – particularly if we had been better discovering what our user community valued about our software.

The consensus at Code Freeze 2010 and DevJam’s developer Jam Session last night is that few of us have much of a clue about the people trying to accomplish things with our software.

Many projects cling to monitoring speed, but that’s not good enough. It reminds me of lyrics from the Steely Dan tune Babylon Sisters.

Well I should know by now
That it’s just a spasm
Like a Sunday in T.J.
That it’s cheap, but it’s not free

It doesn’t matter how fast we deliver if we deliver junk. Are there ways to measure quality? The Interaction Design community says so.

My Pet Product

I am laser focussed on a pet product. I want to experiment with giving my future user community a place at the table in iteration planning. I want my future user community to help us prioritize the product backlog.

I want to be abundantly transparent to them that their suggestions are acted upon and not ignored.

The cheapest and most direct measures of quality I have considered for this particular product are

  • How many community members can we enroll? 
  • How active are they? 
  • How long can we retain them?

Enrollment, Activity, and Retainment are the legs of this product’s stool.

Averting Usability Calamity Software

Can Usability Calamity Software – you know who you are – be averted by paying better attention to users?

What would the measures of quality be for your pet product?

Credit Due

Most of the observations I make about software these days –

the notable exception being giving the user community a hand in prioritizing incremental improvements

have been adapted, or stolen verbatim, from the folks on my software luminaries list. The gist of this post is derived from things David Hussman has said (and I probably mis-understood).

4 thoughts on “We’re Fast, We’re Not Cheap, But Are We Good?

  1. RE: “I want to experiment with giving my future user community a place at the table in iteration planning.”

    Do you mean iteration or release planning?

    Perhaps in your case these are the same thing. But I understand your desire. It is what many small companies do when they release a small software product. They turn around and listen to their customers about what is next feature wise.


  2. This really nails it for me, “it doesn't matter how fast we deliver if we deliver junk.”

    It is very critical to also be Agile in discovering what our users really value and can use. That's the message of Lean Startups that Eric Ries promotes, the combination of Agile Software Development with (Agile) Customer Development. The latter is Steve Blank's methodology for discovering who our customers are and what they really value. If you haven't, I highly recommend “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” by Steve.


  3. Matt,

    I too like Eric Ries' MVP idea.

    I was originally turned off by Steve Blank several months ago because his blog header features a sprawling McMansion in the country – presumably his. I shouldn't let my prejudices about opulent expressions of wealth stunt my ability to steal his ideas, so I'll see if I can locate a free copy of “The Four Steps to the Epiphany”. 🙂

    I started to follow you on Twitter because you were kind enough to tweet this post, but I un-followed you. Forgive me, but I have an ongoing and intense intellectual struggle with the concept of near-shoring (and off-shoring). I don’t get warm fuzzies about fat cat companies in the US seeking out cheaper labor simply because it’s cheaper. If these companies first sought out quality, then realized it was cheaper, that motivation would honorable – otherwise I struggle with the concept.

    Perhaps you will indulge my small-minded thinking by convincing me otherwise?

    All the best at NearSoft.


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