Sync’ up! … without getting drained

jun 7

Nato’s Question

When I see nails, my hand instinctively wants to reach for the hammer hanging on my toolbelt.

That’s why, when building out something unproven, I constantly am asking Nato’s Question:

How can I fake this functionality, until I know it has value?

If you’re a builder, engineer, or someone that cares about aesthetics, then asking Nato’s question is of zenith importance. Why? It may not be obvious at first, but this mantra can get you learning about your users faster. For upstarts, this is of crucial importance.

Doing things that don’t scale

Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame insists that startups ought to do things that don’t scale. It’s a simple idea: high-precision engineering is not what a startup should be doing. It can make or break a startup in their early days, as a startup has no idea what aspects & features will give value to their users.

This is all well and good, but it’s hard to keep this in mind when a spec’ has been drawn out and the engineer begins dreaming up the most clever and beautiful way to implement it.

Good engineers and builders don’t want to fix a hole in the sink by pressing chewing gum into the problem area. No. They want to fix it properly, as they have been trained to do.

But this is at odds with what an upstart must do. Until something has a proven value, the lazy hack is the best way not to get tangled in the wires for months at a time, at the cost of discovering if it’s even worth the effort.

Precarious balance

What an upstart needs to do is quite unintuitive, for sure. But it gets worse. In order to ship releases that users will love, the kludges that are in place can’t be obvious. The users must be oblivious to the man-behind-the-curtain. Moreover, the user experience must be of a high order.

If a user is to give honest feedback — unwittingly or otherwise — a crappy product user experience will put a tremendous amount of noise in the signal. Rather, if the product has a decent user experience, despite all the kludges in place holding it all together, then an upstart is learning fast and sidestepping false-positive feedback.

A mantra to help

Having a product with a decent user experience while it’s all held together by duct-tape is tougher than it sounds. It’s quite split-brained, in fact. However, with Nato’s Question, it can make it all the easier.

When it’s time to build out a feature, or a whole smattering of them, be sure to ask yourself: ‘How can I fake this functionality, until I know it has value?’ Do this and you’ll be on the fast-track for quicker product development and a tighter feedback loop.

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