Path of the most embarrassment

I’m working on HowDoable for a few months already and it’s been a fun ride and main challenge is to go towards the goal.

I’m using Pivotal tracker for my agile needs and i have a long backlog which I’m adding to more stuff over time, rearranging the list and so on. What I noticed that rearranging gets a pattern during hard times – I tend to avoid some kind of tasks – those that are not very natural for me, like writing some texts in English or just regular startup problems like writing business plan or think about the product from user’s perspective.

What I tend to push up the list is something I’m comfortable doing, like coding new features or playing around with new colors, logo, some other things, but definitely not those that bring me closer to the release.

Many words are said about shipping the product early and why it can be vital to business so I’m not going to repeat them here, but I never found a good recommendation about how exactly do we do that. One thing that I heard lately is a paradigm of “minimal viable product” which is about the set of features to include that will make the product stand out, but no more.

What it doesn’t describe is how do you do that in agile environment when so many backlog items come up when you start and reprioritization happens very often and requires constant attention. So I struggle to find that feeling that I can catch and follow during the periodic reordering of my task list / backlog to make sure that things that need to be done to be successful don’t get pushed down by things that I just feel like doing.

Some time ago I read a good quote from Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn – “If you’re not embarrassed by your first release, then you launched too late.” and it stuck with me as a great description of the problem of over-polishing the product which is not even seen by users yet.

So I though to myself – if I look at it from agile perspective and treat each iteration’s or even day’s product as a final product (thing that you want to have in your agile world) then embarrassment is exactly the feeling that needs to guide you when you’re picking the next thing to do.

What I mean is that if you thinking of moving some task down to replace it with some other task, think if this other tasks’ completion is going to help you avoid some potential embarrassment and if so, then stop right there! – what you’re doing is trying to feel better about the product and not bringing the product to the state that will benefit the business.

Unfortunately these are two different things and extreme perfectionism tha arises from trying to “polish the torpedo” never did any good and many projects and businesses were ruined by “unfinished torpedoes with shiny casing”.

So now what I do and urge all the strartupers to do (or open source developers for that matter) is to follow the path of the most embarrassment – when you feel that you have a choice of doing something to reduce the embarrassment, turn around and go into the opposite direction because you’re trying not to hurt your feelings. What you need to do instead is to go towards the business goals that I hope you had time to define and didn’t just jump into development, right.

Hope this insight helps and if you feel I’m wrong, let me know in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Path of the most embarrassment”

  1. Not a bad solo-tracker hack. Here’s another option, especially if you are using Tracker for product management: have someone else prioritize your backlog. This would have the double benefit of not allowing yourself to prioritize according to what’s easy, and also let someone else play the “customer” role and validate what is most important.

  2. Yes, this is all understandable, but the embarrassment problem is not single-person problem but general startup problem, I’m afraid.

    But I agree, that detaching product decision making from development should work … in theory. In practice though, being close to the product to do day-to-day reprioritization and still not getting embarrassed of it’s features / quality is pretty hard.

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