Published in Venture
Image credit by Uran Duo
Head of Growth at Framer
May 1, 2022
Fast Designer, Smart Designer
The religion of moving fast and breaking things has stressed us out and left us broken. Is this the only way to successfully build a product, or can we use design to do things differently?
The religion of fast product
As the Facebook doctrine for success goes, move fast and break things. This is a ritual practised by many of the most evangelical product companies out there, but all too often it ends up being the people that get broken.
Burnout is a product of the constant self-flagellation of overworking, over-committing, and overstressing. Sure, if this is the cost of success then fine, it's your choice, however, this culture has become pervasive. It is a disease that has spread beyond the individual, throughout the company, and throughout the industry. Now if this was the only way to be successful, then cool, by all means, basque in the golden glory of the product gods, go to battle and if you shall fall, eat in the hall of Valhalla. But it's not the only way to succeed, it's just one way to do it and an inefficient way at that, with extremely high casualties. What worked for Mark Zuckerburg won't work for everyone, and if it did, what kind of world would we live in? Facebook is a mediocre product trading on the insecurities of humanity and the leader has mistaken himself for a god surviving on the misfortunes of others. What we need are real tools that improve the human experience, and to do that we need a doctrine that respects humanity from the beginning, we need to move humbly and create things.
As the old adage for success goes, work smarter not harder. If product people are still focusing instead on moving fast and breaking things, it makes me wonder how committed they really are towards doing things in an intelligible way. It seems like the easy way out of a complex pickle, spray and pray. Instead of planning and strategising, they jump to conclusions and brute force their way through the problem, leaving everyone stressed when the ends fray. As they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch, but I believe, if you go about it smartly, you could get something delicious without breaking an arm.
The cost of dancing with the devil
According to the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress. This is because of the way your body reacts to being exposed to long endured and constant stress. Your body becomes fatigued by the constantly tense muscles, the overproduction of hormones and the overly active nervous system. Your body wears out and you become prone to illness and injury.
This not only impacts the person as an individual, but when you place a stressed person in a team, it stresses everyone else out. Stress is viral and it spreads through organisations prolifically. Stress becomes a part of the culture.
Within the context of a product development team's work, there are certain recurring factors that erode their well-being more than others. For them to do their work, they need everything upstream of them in the product development process to have been done completely and competently. They need clear product visions, strategies and goals. When they are left to do their work without these things, it's like being asked to run a race without shoes, a map or even knowing where the finish line is.
Teams are not only sacrificing a large piece of themselves to the product gods for the ascension of their companies into the pantheons of power but they are also the ones left paying the cost long after they leave. Dance with the devil and he will forever have you in his grips.
Stress is a multi-headed demon
Fast process or slow process, pace isn't the real meat with the potatoes. Pace is just a vanity metric, an easy-to-measure façade that distracts the uninquisitive from taking off their rose-tinted glasses and seeing the demon for what it is. Stress is ugly and complicated. Perhaps that's the source of this conundrum, that the move fast and break things ideology has been an easy-to-comprehend distraction from the fact that things are emergent and we really don't know what's going on, we are all actually on magic carpets flying by the seat of our pants.
The reality is that the world is chaotic, and our primal instinct is to make sense of it. Things pop up like snakes all around us all the time, continuously competing for attention, but we can only cut down one at a time. We are stretched thin trying to focus on too many things at once and this will leave us overwhelmed and we will get bitten.
Culture is everything
The culture of an organisation is the sum of the behaviours that the team members do. It is important to remember that product development is a team sport. We often refer to cultures as either being great or toxic. These terms are highly subjective and vague so I prefer to look at it in terms of cultures that promote product success or inhibit it. Of course, even though the hiring managers will be bragging to all their candidates about how great their culture is, no culture is perfect. It is filled with all the complexities and flaws that we humans have, that’s just the way it is and we need to own it. Smart companies look to create ecosystems that nurture a culture to become more promoting of product success (Through retros, feedback, and focusing on soft skills). Others simply ignore it entirely and instead focus on the business results ( They typically tell their employees to work more efficiently or else!). The reason Facebook used the motto move fast and break things was not because it sounded cool, but to deploy a way of working throughout the organisation. They wanted to build a culture around certain expected behaviours. They wanted people not to worry about quality, and just focus on disrupting. However, optimising for maximum disruption leaves a lot of things broken in its wake. I believe that in order to build great products that can solve the world's problems, we need to start optimising for something else completely. We need to optimise the experience of the people at the heart of the organisation, because if the employees have a great experience, then that will filter through to the work they do, meaning better products and better customer experiences.
Moving fast and breaking things has been a recipe for the short-term success of a few people, however as a result, it has left the majority of us broken (employees and users). But now the tide is turning and more and more people are wanting a different future, one that supports the people behind the products and one that creates meaningful experiences for the users. Now is the time to do things differently, so ask yourself, do you want to move fast and break things? or would you prefer to move smart and create things?