Never Trust a Skinny Developer

In any creative passion, there is a huge difference between the apprentice and the master.  With enough raw talent and determination, through years of practice and persistence, that gap can be bridged.

With regards to this path from amateur to professional, there is one aspect of the talented that I find holds true across multiple disciplines.  The impostor follows a set formula without deviation in the hope that the product at the end of that process is both good and predictable.  The truly talented live in a much more chaotic world.  They understand that the journey defines the product.  In fact, they are both one and the same.  In the creation of their masterpiece the talented watch their product come to life in incremental steps and they make adjustments along the way.  Their end product may not be what they originally intended, but I would argue that the end product is better for it.

I came to a further realization of this recently as I continued to explore my passion for baking.  I love to cook, and more recently I have discovered I also love to bake.  (In reality, I believe this all stems from the fact that I love to eat.)  I don’t claim to be a great cook, nor a great baker.  Most times, I am that untalented troll in the kitchen following a recipe step by step, perfectly measuring out the ingredients so as to ensure the end product turns out exactly the way it should.  But that is not what the master does.  A master chef or baker will add a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.  “Hmm, it needs more salt” or “not quite thick enough, let’s add a little more flour” are constant throughout the creative process until they reach the end.

So, if that really is a true characteristic for great product development, and I would argue it is, then why the hell do we do the exact opposite when it comes product development in the business world.  It would appear to me, based on experience, that within most businesses we continue to develop products like amateurs under some insane hope that the end product will be great.  We spend months creating plans, days creating estimates (adjusting all the while to hit arbitrary deadlines), additional months developing that product according to the plan, and then making a thousand and one changes under duress when the originators of the plan realize their plan was imperfect and unrealistic.  At the end of all that, the product is usually sub-par , late, and the best part is it’s not even close to what the original plan had called for.

Let’s think about this for a second.  Say a cook at a restaurant decided to make a new soup.  He or she decides to first spend a few days writing up that recipe, jotting down ingredients, measurements, and cooking time.  Next, they present that recipe to the staff who will be serving the soup to the customers to get their opinion and incorporate their feedback.  (There are no bad ideas!)  Let’s take everyone’s favorite ingredients and add them all in.  To help with the feedback, the chef may even draw some very pretty pictures of the soup in Photoshop.  Next, the chef and his helpers follow that recipe to the letter believing all the way that the end product will be delicious and customers will devour it.  How do you think that soup is going to turn out?  Once in a while, it may not be bad, but I would bet the farm that it will rarely be great.  More often than naught, it will be crap.  To top things off, creating that sup-bar soup took you ten times longer  than if you had simply started cooking with no more that a great idea.

That’s not how a master chef operates.  They start with a good base and then add a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  How how do they know what little bit to add?  Aside from years of experience, they taste it.  They taste it often every step of the way.  Heck, if they really wanted to make a hit they would have the serving staff and even a few select customers taste it now and then as well.  At the end of that process, one would truly have a great soup.

So if you are serious about creating some wonderful new website, just start developing it already.  Don’t create that hundred page document.  Stop with the dozens of wireframes.  Create that first page, and make adjustments.  Put it out there and get some feedback.  Make some more adjustments, or move on to the next feature.  Grab a spoon, taste the broth, and add some pepper.  Dip your finger in the dough and add some more chocolate chips.   Sure you may add a few pounds, but the end product will be fantastic and you’ll have a lot of delicious fun along the way.