Curtain down. Old stack away. Rearrange furniture. Set up stage. Lights. Curtain up. This is the story about Lesson No. 1. Where we failed, why we failed, and what we’ve learned.
«The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.»
—Tom Cargill, Bell Labs
It’s been just about a year to the day since we went public with that trailer of Joinbox. The response to it was marvellous. We collected a pretty nice amount of invitation requests, which gave us a big rush on pushing things forward. Spring passed, we were close to releasing Joinbox to selected people. But we didn’t feel like our baby was ready to be presented. Front-end was nice, back-end merely okay—so, «let’s just fix this one». «Oh, but how about that other little flaw?». Thus, we kept on working. Just like Tom Cargill’s idea of Parkinson’s Law, we filled time with work. Since all of us work part time for a living, time flew. Already being summer, we spent the time with coding, bug fixing, and nagging.
In the meantime, we had great pleasure to participate in a lot of extraordinary events. We’ve been accepted to CTI Startup Coaching (long-term coaching sponsored by the Swiss Federal Commission of Technology and Innovation), we shared the love for data and an early alpha version of Joinbox at the NEXT Conference 2011 in Berlin, gathered profound feedback at MiniSeedcamp in beautiful Ljubljana, and were featured in different media.
How can it be we didn’t manage to release yet? You read it in all the books, you read it on Hacker News, you are told by serial entrepreneurs: «release early, release often». We should have known how (and what) to push forward in terms of developing. Instead, we had to regret repeatedly not letting users (who again and again asked to) lay hands on Joinbox.
The problem with software development is, it lacks an understanding what it means to be done. So how can a deadline be valid at all? The nasty thing with development is it’s organic. The recipe or blueprint never results in a definite product like a cake or building which cannot be changed in the essentials after it is made. That’s why we took a breathing time in fall and cleaned up the stage:
- We set a minimalistic feature description per version. This one was a tough one. What shall the very first version of Joinbox offer and look like? We cut off half of the features initially planned. A mindset we definitely had to learn. The main goal was now something like «runs on Google Chrome and doesn’t crash for 5 minutes».
- We set up a plan to release. Not an exact date. The idea was to make some friends a Christmas present. No matter if parts look bad, if it skyrockets the server’s CPU or makes the pay-per-traffic provider happy.
- We started to release often. Since Christmas time—when we sure enough released—we had two nice major and some minor releases on alpha.joinbox.com. We’re adding features step by step and suddenly it’s huge pleasure to see the basics grow on a daily basis.
- We try hard to make users happy. Already with the couple of first alpha testing users we set up a UserVoice feedback mask to gather ideas and bugs. We strictly focus on what users wish and implement own ideas and in-house feature requests secondarily.
This practice along with giving some shots on project management frameworks like Agile, Scrum and Lean Management made a great improvement on quality and performance of developing. We are happy now to be again on schedule. A new schedule.
Year 2011 was a crazy roller coaster. The emotionally most intense ride we have ever taken. Instead of listening better to professional advices and try harder, we just wanted—and needed—to hit that wall we’ve been running at. However, and most importantly, people are able to learn and we will fail better next time. How else could one become experienced?
It’s January 2012 now. New year, new luck. It’s close to impossible that we won’t launch beta later than February. Hopefully you too had an educational 2011 and are set for another adventurous roller coaster ride.