Bad ideas quickly pushed through
August 29, 2012 5:18 PM   Subscribe

Does this phenomenon, that happens in small startups have a name? Can you point me to any discussion on the topic?

I've worked at a few (very) small startups, the type where the CEO has direct access to the developers. I'm trying to explain to my current CEO the following situation:

- Someone sends us a dramatic email telling us that they can't use the website unless it has feature A.

- CEO convinces the developers to implement the idea ASAP, they do so and feature A goes live the next day.

- Feature A turns out to be a terrible, terrible idea, and it's removed a few weeks later.

Obviously the situation can be prevented with some research and discussion beforehand. I'm not asking how to prevent the situation, rather if there are sources or articles I can use to describe it to people. Are there any best practices? (e.g. wait a certain number of days before implementing the new idea?)
posted by cmcmcm to Technology (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

I would call this a variant of decision making by HIPPO (Highest Paid Person in the rOom? yeah, the acronym is a little screwy). One of the better defenses against it is to have a disciplined launch process where new features or tweaks are launches in an AB test, and results are measured: whether you are measuring for increased clicks, more sign ups, more sales of widgets, more facebook likes, what have you. Before the feature launches you should have decided what metric would make it a success and a way to measure that metric in each of you AB treatments. (This is often the tricky part. You need to know what your core company metrics are and you need to understand how to measure them.)

There are many ways to do AB tests- Google Analytics offers one with a lot of tutorials that will also teach you AB test basics; Microsoft has a few papers out on the topic (here is a very good one); and Wired has a good article over here.

Basically you're building a framework to evaluate just how essential that feature A is; is it a really good idea because lots of people click on it but poorly done because they abandon it? Should you iterate on this idea or totally give up on it? Did you put a big link on your homepage for people to see it & so steal traffic away from a more profitable area of your site?
posted by lyra4 at 5:30 PM on August 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Mother of all Best Practices:

The Wall of Code, spearheaded by your balls-of-steel Leader of Product Dev, who threatens said CEO with the terror and wrath of every believing man and woman on your product development team should you be even requested to satiate the knee-bending weakness your CEO suffers upon receiving a Fucking mindless whim of an epiphany from CEO's beloved and cheap-ass "important client."
posted by Kruger5 at 5:40 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

In my experience in start ups, the phrase you are looking for is Standard Operating Procedure.
posted by COD at 5:45 PM on August 29, 2012 [15 favorites]

Generally not knowing what they're doing: all pivot, no product.
posted by rhizome at 6:02 PM on August 29, 2012

Kruger5, I'm confused your response. What is a wall of code?

Lack of "Standard Operating Procedure" sounds close to what I'm looking for. Can you point me to specific examples or resources for tech startups? Anecdotes?
posted by cmcmcm at 6:12 PM on August 29, 2012

Again, I'm not looking to solve the problem, but explain the problem to someone else.
posted by cmcmcm at 6:24 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd call it a complete lack of product management, don't know if there's a snappier title. It's not just websites; I work on a distributed operating system that has all kinds of bells and whistles that no one uses but some sales or marketing person insisted at one point that we "had to have this feature" for some specific customer.
posted by octothorpe at 6:42 PM on August 29, 2012

The problem here is that your CEO doesn't have a product team to take the CEO's crazy ideas, and evaluate them for commercial potential, before turning them over to developers to implement.
There's no name for this phenomenon except that your company is too small and your CEO has poor product sense (red flag red flag red flag). A "cooling off period" for ideas isn't what you need. You need a person or team who is good at separating good ideas from bad, coming up with ways to measure successful ideas and then translating those ideas into development deliverables.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:10 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks! I did a search for Project Management. I found this article:
And the powerpoint in the article was exactly what I needed. Any other horror stories or examples would be appreciated.
posted by cmcmcm at 7:22 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, late to the party, but this article may be useful. This isn't a problem limited to software startups. I work with device startups and often have the "just because you can, doesn't mean you should" conversation when they have a great "insight" into a new feature.
posted by highway40 at 7:44 PM on August 29, 2012

I don't know about a software industry specific term for it but everywhere I've encountered it it's been called Panic.
posted by Ookseer at 7:49 PM on August 29, 2012

It's not just startups. A good layer of management in the middle-- that is eager to intercept ecutives before they issue the edict of the moment to devs--helps a lt.
posted by nita at 7:56 PM on August 29, 2012

This is what happens when you aren't working off of a plan.
posted by gjc at 7:56 PM on August 29, 2012

"You need a person or team who is good at separating good ideas from bad, coming up with ways to measure successful ideas and then translating those ideas into development deliverables."

Otherwise known as "The Marketing Department". Marketers catch a lot of grief, but good ones are worth their weight in platinum.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:02 PM on August 29, 2012

At brass tacks, it's a lack of accountability.

The best measure of anyone - I was going to say the work place, but really anyone, anywhere - is whether or not they're willing to have skin in the game. In your example - is your CEO making an obvious show of taking the credit for his whims both good AND bad?

Personally, that's my test. Either someone casts their great idea as an honest test and follows through accordingly, or they stake themselves on the result. They VOLUNTEER to be accountable.

Anything else is just talk and doesn't deserve the effort.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:06 PM on August 29, 2012

If you're working at a very small startup, odds are good that you're inherently at the mercy of the CEO's judgment about the marketplace and what features to add to the product when. If it's not about this feature it'll be about some other feature caused by a change in company vision which was caused by - surprise - some email the CEO got last week. Basically, if you don't trust their judgement you shouldn't be part of a company the success of which depends heavily on their judgement.

Note that this is distinct from CEO micromanaging and not letting you do your job. But if that is your objection, then put it in those terms, because "your idea sucks" will generally be a non-starter, no matter where they got it from.
posted by inkyz at 11:03 PM on August 29, 2012

The phrase you are looking for is Kneejerk Development.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:49 AM on August 30, 2012

Traumatic Development.
Because having lived through five years of this exact thing, reading this thread is flaring my Post-Traumatic Development Stress.
posted by mimi at 5:52 AM on August 30, 2012

Fiat Management
posted by Thorzdad at 6:43 AM on August 30, 2012

One aspect of what you are describing is indeed called "feature creep" in the software development world. But there are other aspects to your situation as well.

To me it seems inevitable that during the course of development, some things will not have been thought of previously that need to be addressed.

And then, during the course of marketing, customers give feedback on what they'd like to see the product be able to do.

I think the challenge is to be receptive to such input because it's sometimes potentially valuable in the sense that often a product finds market niches that weren't originally envisioned.

But that imperative needs to be balanced with focusing on doing the core functionality well and keeping things simple. It's often said, such as about Tumblr, that the best developers and marketers think in terms of what can be removed rather than what can be added.
posted by Dansaman at 9:13 AM on August 30, 2012

(I've always used HIPPO as an abbreviation for HIghest-Paid-Person's Opinion, which can just be the person in the room but gets a bonus multiplier if they're several layers of management above you. It is usually wrong, but Worthington's Law... )
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:39 AM on August 30, 2012

"You need a person or team who is good at separating good ideas from bad, coming up with ways to measure successful ideas and then translating those ideas into development deliverables."

Otherwise known as "The Marketing Department". Marketers catch a lot of grief, but good ones are worth their weight in platinum.

I work for a startup with a pretty kick-ass marketing department, but that doesn't make them a product management team... I've never heard of a marketing department running the product management side of a tech-related company. The specific missing aspect from most marketing people would be "translating those ideas into development deliverables", which means project plans for software developers. But no doubt a good marketing department would be better than nothing but a ceo and some software developers.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:57 AM on August 31, 2012

« Older How early to buy Seoul baseball tickets?   |   How to survive a marital separation arrangement? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.