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Fail Fast, Succeed Fast

The micro-world that is Silicon Valley has a perception of a breeding ground for new ideas. With a few horrendously bad (like ‘disruption‘), and others being quite good – when put into context.

Fail fast! Fail often!

This is an idea that has been bandied recently, and out of context, some companies have used it to fail right out of business.

Fail Fast, Succeed Fast

The core idea of this concept is to make small, but brave changes to your project and see how the customer responds. Only a small amount of time is invested and if the result is an awful failure there has been little lost.

On the other hand, if the results look promising, you could iterate the idea into a successful product. Fail fast – but not for the sake of failing. Fail fast or succeed fast, either way, the idea is to take an idea and act on it.

Fail Fast in Your Career

For you, the idea of fail fast is just as applicable to your career. However, for performance review reasons, we may want to rephrase it as “pushing growth.” By this, I mean that to grow within your own skill set and push any project forward, you need to take risks – risks that something may fail.

Similar in nature to a previous post on Making Mistakes, taking the risk of something failing is often the only way to move forward.

Think of a legacy section of code or process that your company uses. Something that is so crusty (and yet works) that no one wants to touch it with an 83 ½-foot pole. Yet, that code continues to be a weak spot in the product and workflow – like a mild migraine that doesn’t go away.

What if you took a chance to slice off a small part of the crust and redesigning a feature to make it more robust? It may fail horribly, but you could also make big contributions.

Destroy the Endless Meeting Drone

Another way to think about using the fail fast approach is when meetings drone on about whether a feature could work (like would blue be better than green). I’ve been in too many meetings where the same slides are presented on the pros and cons of a feature and the same arguments are rehashed.

Nothing ever gets done. But, throw something together that approximates the features and present it at the next meeting? Even if it doesn’t work, your team may be impressed with your initiative (and thankful the meeting can finally end).

Quick and dirty demos can win out over well-prepared slides any day. Just be prepared for the reactions to range from ‘that idea is awful’ to ‘we are geniuses!’

Seeing is Believing

It comes down to the fact that seeing and interacting with something is more ‘real’ than talking about it. The key is that it doesn’t have to be complete, spend just enough time to approximate the idea and allow for quick feedback.

Henry Ford was famously quoted as saying “if I asked what people wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It’s easy to think back on that and think the first Ford car was this perfect marvel of engineering, so well thought out that it completely transformed everything in life.

The reality is that Ford threw together existing ideas (there were many other companies building automobiles) and quickly churned out something new – the assembly line. When the first Model A was sold, Ford only had $223.65 left in the bank (ref)  – he had to get production done quickly and start selling. The Model A had multiple limitations (some could say failures), but they sold and they could build more (successes).

Fail fast, but also succeed fast

The whole point here, and why this mantra has resonated with some successful businesses, is that having something, anything to show can be better than hand waving and slides. So take some initiative and build that thing that never goes away in meetings.

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