Speed Wins

Speed wins. Startup dogma. Silicon Valley platitude. Dangerous concept that is often misinterpreted.

People hear this and think of the mythological developer who just cranks things out at lightning speed. Working all night, crushing Red Bulls, typing furiously on their laptop. There are many flaws with that mythology that I won’t go into here, but why does that mythology exist in the first place? Business executives are the reason.

When people think of speed (or slowness), people don’t think about is the business exec holding countless meetings with unclear objectives or agendas to discuss and review a potential decision. They don’t think about the countless people-hours spent in discussions. The ours of analysis that result in paralysis. Hell, it’s pretty common that people don’t know who is actually going to make the decision or what that decision even looks like.

There is an order of operations that is critical to the speed equation. Business must decide THEN the things can be built. Clear decisions must be made before the engineers can build anything of consequence, but all too often, people spend countless hours coming to a decision, if ever. The ugly result is that once a decision is FINALLY made, the engineers are then put into a thankless position where they need to deliver on unreasonable timelines, because the ‘business’ said so.  This is fundamentally flawed. Product folks need to fight this fight and maintain the line of chaos.

Business executives would be wise to understand their role in this problem and how they can help solve it. So, how can they help?

  1. Set a timeline for a decision and stick to it – you will never have enough information in
  2. Be clear who will make the decision – that doesn’t mean it has to be just one person. There are many ways to come to a decision
  3. If you must call a meeting to discuss, make it a meeting that doesn’t suck – set a clear agenda, invite only people who will contribute to the ability to make the decision
  4. Make a decision and be clear in communicating what it is – you can (and should) change your mind in the future, if you are presented with new information

Over time, if you follow some of these principles, you will be amazed at the impact it has on your company’s velocity – especially your engineering team(s).

As with any problem, the first step is to confront the truth, then own the problem, and ultimately figure out how to fix it. If you are a business exec who is not happy with the velocity of your team, especially your engineering team, make sure you are not the cause of the problem.

Other useful articles on the topic can be found here, here, here, and here.


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