Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Life in the Agile Lane

One reason I've mostly been fairly quiet lately is that my brain is being positively eaten by work. Being Product Manager is a whole new set of responsibilities to get used to. In particular, while I can traditionally leave my programming at work, and get away from it in the evenings, that's harder now -- a lot of my job is simply thinking about the product in the early mornings and late evenings, continuing to feel around the edges and try to figure out where it needs to go. On the one hand, it's a lot of fun, especially to the world-building side of my brain. OTOH, it's very distracting.

All that said, the shift to being a purer startup is proving excellent for my blood pressure. Yeah, we still have arguments, and they can still get pretty heated, but they're just plain more *manageable* at this size -- they're typically between two or three people, not a whole roomful who are factionalizing. And since the group is now made up more or less entirely of professional programmers, all of whom are decent at getting their egos out of the way, we're tending to resolve the arguments pretty quickly.

And as I'd hoped, we are finally doing something that's credibly Agile. We've dumped most of the tools we were using (including the execrable VersionOne), in favor of keeping track of things mostly on 4x6 index cards taped to the white board. The cost of this is that we lose some precision in keeping track of what's going on and where we're going -- OTOH, I'm not sure we're losing any *accuracy* in that process. Our schedule so far is mainly based on Onur's and my gut-feel about how long things ought to take to implement; so far, that gut-feel looks to be about as accurate as our old heavyweight processes were.

Perhaps most importantly, we don't know exactly what we're building yet, but that's really a feature as far as I'm concerned. Historically, we've tended to spend months agonizing over every detail, nailing down specs in one form or another, implementing to those specs -- and then finding that we were wrong in the first place. Instead, we're attacking the system on a story-by-story basis, making progress far more quickly, and I don't see any evidence that we're heading in any less correct a direction. Rather, I've been drilling home the mantra "Nothing Is Set In Stone". The odd advantage of knowing that we're out on the bleeding edge here, and are going to have to learn as we go, is that we're spending a lot less time making decisions: since every decision may change down the line, we're a lot more willing to try stuff out and see how it goes.

All of which boils down to: yeah, this is why I like working in startups. It's crazier and riskier, but man, it's a lot less soul-deadening.

As for what the product itself is -- I'll probably start talking about that soon. We're not really in stealth mode this time, having decided that that's really not very helpful, but we want to get a little further along before we start shouting it to the rooftops. Basically, we're combining a number of fairly conventional ideas about communication and conversation, stirring in a bunch of little elements that really *ought* to be common but for some reason aren't, and baking it all together into a communications tool that's just plain more *useful* than any other single product out there. If I'm right about this, we'll wind up with a feature set that everyone else will then trip all over themselves trying to copy, and we'll be off to the races...
Tags: agile, programming, work

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