Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why Iterative Development is Awesome

I wanted to call this post "Knowing When to Not Listen To Anyone" but I thought it was too negative so I went with "Why Iterative Development is Awesome". Iterative development is the process of developing an application in a somewhat flexible manner.

By flexible, I mean it creates opportunities in the development process for new ideas to alter the final form of a product. Anyone who's built a Web application more complicated than a feedback form knows the finished product has a slim chance of being the same as the original spec, for numerous reasons.

Hopefully those reasons rest in the realm of early customer feedback, capitalizing on new technology, or new business opportunities and not the realization that the product as specified is terrible. The process implies developers and product managers will learn about what they're building as they go, realize threats and opportunities, and react accordingly.

There are, however, some problems, a major one being opinion overload. Sometimes, especially at a startup, the opinions of people higher up the corporate food chain are valued more than those of people in the trenches. Acting on those opinions can lead to some terrible mistakes, especially if they are contrary to the majority opinion.

In an environment where there is no strong product manager to fight for well thought-out priorities vs. tangential ones, disaster can ensue. But an environment where entrepreneurial ideas are marginalized can lead to a weak product. The trick becomes knowing when to listen and when not to.

There is no sure-fire method for determining the best course of action. There is ultimately only one tried and true mantra to get a team through the dark days of development:

Do the best you can with what you have.

Think every idea through and discuss them amongst as large a group as possible. Involve your product's community when you can to increase the size of the crowd. Make decisions on direction clear and well justified.

The best path will reveal itself under scrutiny.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

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