Moving fast often has many side effects; whether you’re driving fast in a car, skiing down a mountain at high speeds, or falling from the sky with a parachute, all this speed has side effects. Our goal is to minimize the negative side effects while maximizing the positive ones. (If you don’t know what I mean by a positive side effect of moving fast then stop right there. Go figure this out first. The adrenaline rush is second to none.)
But instead of talking about the highs that come from moving fast I want to spend a couple minutes looking at the lows. I want to explore those negative side effects that come up whenever we’re moving fast. And rather than exploring the entire range of ways we can move fast I want to focus on just one area that is becoming more and more common in today’s world and one with which I have personal experience. I want to share a sure fire way to minimize negative side effects caused by moving fast when building a product.
This is important because of the myths and cliche statements we hear commonly shared in the mindset of today’s startups. These phrases are tossed around as common vernacular and lingo that every startup should claim as their ‘mantra’ for existence. But this mindset is dangerous and potentially deadly for longterm success. Here’s a common example that many of you have probably already heard:
“Move fast and break things.” - Facebook
This thinking is a pervasive cancer that if followed without discretion and proper context leads to those dangerous side effects I mentioned earlier.
To be clear, the problem is not in moving fast, nor is the problem in breaking things. The issue is deeper and more subtle. Moving fast is a requirement for success in the startup scene today. It seems with every advance in technology so the pace of a startups rise to success must also grow exponentially. Speed is equated with success and the giants who paved the way seemingly preach this gospel without regard for side effects. But I’ve gone long enough without providing more context for what I am suggesting. If moving fast is not the problem what is?
The problem does not lie in breaking things either. There’s nothing wrong with breaking things as you move fast. It’s naturally an inevitable side effect and I would suggest it is not a negative side effect. But now we’re getting closer to the true issue.
We must learn from what we break and we must move fast in fixing them when they do break. As we move we have to build in proper processes. These processes help to govern our speed and shape our direction. And this is where the fault becomes evident. If a startup or a business moves fast without the proper process than mistakes will snowball and problems will grow into an insurmountable obstacle. And that is why processes are so important. But let’s get specific for a bit and evaluate what those processes look like practically speaking.
1. Get Past Repetition
The first process that needs to be established in your quest to move faster is to get past repetition. This process means when you fail and break things you want to protected yourself from doing it again. You don’t want to fall into the dangerous trap of repeating your past failures. Failing is acceptable and part of the process. Repeatedly making the same mistake or breaking the same thing is not acceptable. This means you need to diligently set up a process to help you guard against this. Now you may be wondering what this looks like. The first and possibly greatest way is listed as another separate process below (Document Failures).
Here are a couple practical ways you can get past repetition.
- Share information within your team. Whether this is done through regular and frequent all-hands meetings or done informally in chat conversations. It is important that everyone knows how the company is doing where you have succeeded (and failed). Knowledge truly is power.
- Train New Team Members. Much in the same way that the first point educates everyone on the team by giving them current information about the status of the team success, newly joined team members need to be brought up to speed on those conversations. Create a powerful and robust database of the company’s history (and I don’t mean the marketing story about how the company has risen through startup struggles to be a powerful force to be reckoned with.). Make this down and dirty. Make this real.
2. Use Positive Reinforcement
The second process you should setup as you move faster in your startup involves the implementation and use of positive reinforcement. This is incredibly important because failures and mistakes can be discouraging. Team morale may falter and if this is not guarded against this will lead to a downward spiral, increased discouragement, and ultimately failure. Positive reinforcement means looking at your failures not as catastrophic and dismal but merely a part of a greater journey. Positive reinforcement encourages failure for the sake of growth.
Now of course I don’t mean go seek out failure so you can grow. That would be crazy! Instead, when failure occurs (and it will) seek out the lesson to be learned, the means by which that breakage can make you stronger for the next time. Encourage your team members by reminding them of the big picture. The best way to rise up from a fall is to turn your eyes towards where you are going.
3. Ask the Right Questions
The next process to build out involves a standard to be created at every point when a failure occurs. Don’t ignore failure, but don’t blindly encourage your team either. Instead, do a proper post mortem on each failure point. Know why you failed and know what you can learn from it. But I didn’t name this particular process Error Reporting. Instead when you break something you need to be able to diagnosis it properly. This means above all else you must ask the right questions after you break something. This can be tricky because who is to determine the right questions?
Asking the right question meanings that you must first have a strong understanding of the objectives. But thankfully, when the above processes have been created (using positive reinforcement and protecting against repetition) then everyone knows what the goal is. And knowing the goal means you can ask the right questions. As you can see these processes are linked. They work together.
4. Redirect Appropriately
When moving fast and breaking things there’s another important process you need to create. Redirect as needed. That’s right, moving along at breakneck speed doesn’t mean doing so blindly or without direction. Only a fool would not take the experiences and failures and learn from them. Learning from them is more than asking the right questions, it’s more than telling the team, and it’s more than staying positive. Learning from mistakes means acting on the knowledge gathered and using that knowledge to redirect or change course.
I’m sure this is more easily understood than the other processes and its different for every startup. But the takeaway is the same regardless. Learn from your mistakes and change your path as a result.
5. Document Failures
Finally, the last process I’ll describe for you is one that has been hinted at repeatedly through a variety of the other processes. As I suggested earlier many of these processes are interlinked and co-dependent. Of course you can establish a few of them without the others. But implementing them all will give you a significant advantage. And it should be said that you may already be doing some of these processes already just with different names or implementations. Ensuring that your startup in one way or another follows these processes will increase your likelihood of success and growth.
So, the final process is documentation. Writing down what happened, when it happened, and most importantly why it happened. By having this level of detail in your documented mistakes you’ll prevent yourself from creating the same ones again (or at least guard against it). It all ties in together.
Write it down, share it, learn from it, encourage one another, redirect as necessary. Follow these processes and you will not just blindly move fast and break things. But you will instead move fast with a purpose and break things as you make them better.
This simple acronym, GUARD, will help setup the right process and allow you to move fast and break things…the right way. With intentionality and proper direction you can accomplish incredible things and truly accelerate your growth. Without these processes and guidelines you’ll fall victim to the same trap as so many other failing businesses who think moving quickly means constantly failing. Build the right processes and watch your productivity explode. Who knows, maybe something you say will be the next ‘mantra’ that everyone is quoting.