An obligation to ship

Sometimes you are in a position where you’re simply obligated to ship something. And when shipping becomes the most important thing for a team, it sets a very specific dynamic in the decision making process where you are constantly negotiating about how much design debt you are willing to take on order to get something out there asap.

I recently had the opportunity to join a fantastic team of really talented people who had already been working with a set of interactive wireframes, or a rapid prototype (RP) as Axure calls it, for quite some time. I was so stoked to start taking over the Axure RP file as it was created with significant amounts of logic coded to render alot of sophisticated interactions that quite frankly projects usually don’t have much time for. I was in Axure RP heaven.

But things that seem too good are rarely that. I started to uncover a problem and after asking naively and repeatedly for the latest coded build to accompany these wireframed beauties, things turned a corner. Not only was the code not in sync with the wireframes, but the wireframes were designed way beyond what was going to be possible to build in any reasonable time frame. This gorgeous RP file was now fast becoming a waterfall behemoth and although it was doing a hell of a job selling to stakeholders, it was months and months ahead of a real live product.

It felt like we were drowning in heaps of design assumptions that had not yet been validated. My heart sank as now I was not going to be designing, I was going to have to un-design. Instead of building on these Cadillac wireframes, I was going to have to start stripping them back towards something more like a Ford Focus. In short, my job was now to ship!

As we de-scope further and further towards a minimum viable product (MVP), we strive towards making the right design decisions that bring the most value to the customer. The product itself and the team have come together in a more profound way since we’ve started working to Lean UX principles.

Seth Godin’s work on resistance from his book, Linchpin, has certainly done well to provide some insight into this predicament. His talk from the 99U Conference, Quieting the Lizard Brain, has really helped to explain a bit about what’s going when one of the most important constraints on a design is that you simply have to ship it.