move fast and break thingsBy now we have all heard the Facebook developers mantra “Move Fast and Break Things” which has supported the rapid development of the Facebook platform. This trial and error approach to software development has driven massive growth in the speed of software development.

But as Facebook and others have learned the hard way there is a time to “move fast and break things” and a time to use caution. And still others like Boeing have learned tragically that this model of product development doesn’t apply to every business.

I work primarily with businesses that are more like Boeing. I’m all for moving fast, but if it involves breaking stuff you better be sure you are aware of the potential results.

Move Fast and Break Things

what happens when you move fast and break thingsFacebook is probably the most famous tech company to use this slogan in their development path. And it worked well for them for a long time. Facebook grew in an exponential way, gathering new users across the globe and evolving the platform at a breakneck pace. And then it broke.

Well publicized Facebook outages, privacy breaches, and user issues led users to question the stability of the network and the safety of their information.

As a result Facebook changed course and in 2014 changed their slogan to “Move Fast with Stable Infra(structure)”

The focus remains on moving quickly, but not at the expense of the stability of the platform. (Note they still haven’t included security and safety in their priorities within their slogan).

The reality though is that if Facebook goes down the impacts are minimal. We miss a few cute cat pictures. You have to wait to see the latest picture of our nieces and nephews doing cute things. We have to go elsewhere to rant about politics and our neighbours. The actual impact of a Facebook outage is pretty small. Nobody gets hurt.

Know Your Business

In businesses like Facebook or Twitter, the services they provide aren’t mission critical. They aren’t life or death. An outage doesn’t have a direct impact on the well being of people or society. They fit more into the category of entertainment. If your Cable TV or Satellite stops working you might miss a show. If the lead singer of your favourite band catches a cold you might be inconvenienced by a rescheduled concert. Facebook and Twitter outages are more like that.

But what about if your business is more critical to the well being of your customers. Companies like Boeing are trusted with the lives of millions of people per year around the globe. Major banks hold society’s trust with our savings and banking transactions. They keep the flow of money around the globe working to support our economy. Power grids and energy companies provide critical infrastructure that powers our homes, hospitals, and businesses.

If any of these companies decides to “move fast and break things” we will definitely feel the impacts in real human terms. Casualties, financial problems, and lost lives are the likely outcomes of an outage in these businesses. And it is critical that they recognize that duty of care.

What Happens When You Don’t

Boeing is guilty of ignoring that duty of care in their business when they released the Boeing 737 Max aircraft line. In the interest of profits, shareholder wealth, and speed to market, they ignored basic aircraft design elements like backup systems, training, and single points of failure. They released an aircraft with complicated features that even experienced pilots didn’t know about and didn’t know how to handle.

Ultimately they caused the deaths of 346 people by ignoring their business when they approached new product development.

In 2012, RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) implemented a software update to their systems which was corrupted, and which ultimately brought the bank to a standstill. After almost three weeks of recovery efforts the bank was back up and running, but not without impacting millions of customers who had their paycheques delayed, their home purchases stalled, their loans double billed, and more. Millions of real people were affected by a poorly tested update in the interest of speed.

Balance Speed with Need

If you work in a business that has a duty of care to your customers or trades on the trust you build with your customers for reliable execution, you need to balance your speed of execution with the needs of your customers and that duty of care. If you have to delay an update or new product launch to ensure that your customers are safe, then it is in your best interests to do so.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t implement agile practices in your product or software development teams. But it does mean that you have to have extra layers of validation and oversight to ensure that the speed is balanced with the safety and stability of your systems.

If you’re in a business with little real impacts to your customers then you only risk reputation for stability and you can move quickly to launch and fix new products or features.

If your customers rely on your business with their lives or livelihood you better be sure that new products and features work before you bring them to market.

Don’t move fast and break things. Move at the right pace to balance customer value, customer risk, and duty of care.

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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