In the first part of this series, we’ve enjoyed the mesmerising colours of the Sagrada Familia and made our way through Gaudí’s Agile Ways of Working. Our journey was all about the empirical, iterative approach and the master’s great ability to create a great environment for efficient collaboration. After a short break, it’s time to get back to exploring more similarities between Gaudí’s methods and the way agile products are developed today.
We’ve eaten all the jamon sandwiches we picked up on our way to the Sagrada Familia, and the museum is about to close. It’s time to get back to learning, full of energy! So come and join me and see what else the Master has to teach us.
I think that Gaudí’s successors were very happy to have inherited all the models, all the schemes, all the experimental models — not just the piles of drawings and the finished results. In the museum it is easy to get to know the whole process of building, from the design to the execution of the work. It is striking how much you can learn even if you have no professional knowledge of the subject. Gaudí made it look easy, and he certainly succeeded in making his progress inheritable and comprehensible.
In other contexts it works in the same way, and software development is hardly an exception. Genius is simple, but it’s extremely difficult to simplify. It’s a challenge to design the code base so that it’s intuitively clear to strangers. And it’s even harder to maintain it that way. To make sure that all the new changes don’t ruin that smoothness. We always hear about technical debt, legacy code, and overly complicated architecture as the most painful problems for developers. It’s no less difficult to make your product’s idea easy for your target audience to understand. Many ideas that look unbelievably promising often turn into fiascos when they are confronted with the cruel reality.
The pursuit of simplicity and leanness, with the courage to eliminate waste, is what distinguishes successful projects. It’s so painful to throw away the ideas you believed in so passionately, to reject the work you’ve done so thoroughly, and then to move on and start all over again as if nothing had happened. Natural selection dictates its cruel rules, and that’s what we should often do.
Millions of people have visited the unbuilt cathedral for dozens of years. An unfinished cathedral. Millions of euros are flowing into the Spanish budget thanks to this unbuilt cathedral. At the same time, thousands of projects are in development for years before they are integrated or released to their users. The masterpiece brings in even more money every year. The late products, on the other hand, fade away without meeting any demand.
I’ve heard a lot of surprised comments about people flooding Sagrada despite it’s not ready. But in the long run, we all ended up visiting it. What’s more, the fact that it’s still under construction gives it a special charm: we can visit it many times, and each time will be a unique experience. The same thing happens with a successful product that evolves with our needs, or sometimes even creates our new needs: Every time you use its new version, you get more.
What’s even more impressive is that the cathedral’s popularity actually freed the hands of its artists. They were given even more money to unleash their imagination and create this masterpiece. And let’s face it, now they don’t have to worry much about what people would say. The same thing happens with mature products, which allow for more experimentation, and sometimes even begin to shape the needs of their customers.
In the world of software development, we’re still in transition from the old waterfall approach to the agile one, which teaches to release as early as possible. Thousands of startups raise more and more money every year, blowing up their staff and budgets without doing the necessary product discovery.
Another example is when products requested by governments or large corporations take years to build. When they are finally delivered, they often bring more frustration than benefit to their users, but it’s too late to reject them. Especially in B2B, sales success is often achieved at the expense of users because of the great distance between the buyer and the actual user. If only every product could be delivered in iterations, released early and sharpened with the wisely gathered feedback!
Let’s put some meat on the bones of early release, because it shouldn’t just be an action in itself, it should be done wisely. According to the theory of diffusion of innovation, in the very first stages of your product release, it’s crucial to get the innovators interested so that they can spread it to the early adopters, and then the mass users will have no choice but to follow the examples of the first two groups. Very often these innovators won’t be the personas you’ve drawn in your mind. But by trying out your product on different types of people, you could learn who the best innovator persona is for your product.
For Sagrada, the innovators were mainly Japanese. It’s a typical story: while the majority of Catalans could not appreciate the genius of their compatriots for a long time, the Japanese rushed to book their flights to Barcelona and were the first to flock to the Sagrada Familia.
Was Sagrada perfect? No. Was it finished? Not even close! Was it worthwhile? Absolutely! Did Gaudí know the Japanese would like it? Of course not! And that’s the point.
Now, you may feel that your product is far from finished. Maybe you have a ton of ideas for new features you should add. But let’s face it: You’ll never know what your users will like until you test it. The most important thing is the satisfaction of their needs at a cost that is acceptable to you. So release it, find your “Japanese”. Get the first feedback and learn what really makes people use your product. Instead of building it just for yourself.
Of course, not all of our projects will become “Sagrada” (very few, in fact). Even if we look at Gaudí’s earlier works, many of them would be little known if not for the success of the Sagrada Familia and other masterpieces. I can’t help thinking how great it would be if we could devote our time to the really valuable products, to creating more “sagradas”. We can move in this direction by striving to fail quickly with what is not meant to fly.
Time is up. The museum staff rush us out by turning off the lights on the exhibits. It was getting darker and darker, but the vivid memories of the dance of colours still stirred my imagination. The satisfaction of the masterpiece and the inspiration of its history are inextricably intertwined. This evening I have had enough food for my brain and soul. If I have managed to share at least a small part of it in this article, then my mission is accomplished.