Ceiiing Real

|y 37siguais
lhe smarter, /aster, easier uay to
|uiio a success/ui ue| appiicatiou
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Copvright © 2006 bv 37signals
All rights reserved. No part ot this book mav be reproduced in anv torm
or bv anv electronic or mechanical means, including intormation storage
and retrieval svstems, vithout permission in vriting trom 37signals,
except bv a reviever vho mav quote briet passages in a reviev.
lirst edition
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+ Iniroáuciion
: What is Getting Peal·
o About 37signals
o Caveats, disclaimers, and other preemptive strikes
+: The 8iariing Line
+: Build Iess
+| What`s Your Problem·
+¬ lund Yourselt
+o lix 1ime and Budget, llex Scope
:+ Have an Lnemv
:| It Shouldn`t be a Chore
:- 8iay Lean
:o Iess Mass
:o Iover Your Cost ot Change
:+ 1he 1hree Musketeers
:: Lmbrace Constraints
:- Be Yourselt
:¬ Prioriiies
:: What`s the Big Idea
|o Ignore Details Larlv On
|: It`s a Problem When It`s a Problem
|: Hire the Pight Customers
|| Scale Iater
|o Make Opinionated Sottvare
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|¬ Feaiure 8eleciion
|: Halt, Not Halt-Assed
|o It lust Doesn`t Matter
-+ Start With No
-: Hidden Costs
-| Can You Handle It·
-- Human Solutions
-o lorget leature Pequests
-: Hold the Mavo
-o Process
oo Pace to Punning Sottvare
o: Pinse and Pepeat
o| lrom Idea to Implementation
oo Avoid Preterences
o: Done'¨
¬o 1est in the Wild
¬: Shrink Your 1ime
¬- The Organizaiion
¬o Lnitv
¬¬ Alone 1ime
¬o Meetings Are 1oxic
:+ Seek and Celebrate Small Victories
:: 8iaĀng
:: Hire Iess and Hire Iater
:- Kick the 1ires
:o Actions, Not Words
:: Get Well Pounded Individuals
:o You Can`t lake Lnthusiasm
oo Wordsmiths
o+ Inierface Design
o: Intertace lirst
o| Lpicenter Design
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oo 1hree State Solution
o¬ 1he Blank Slate
oo Get Detensive
+oo Context Over Consistencv
+o+ Copvvriting is Intertace Design
+o: One Intertace
+o: Coáe
+o| Iess Sottvare
+o¬ Optimize tor Happiness
+oo Code Speaks
+++ Manage Debt
++: Open Doors
++| ¼orás
++- 1here`s Nothing lunctional about a lunctional Spec
++: Don`t Do Dead Documents
+:o 1ell Me a Quick Storv
+:+ Lse Peal Words
+:: Personitv Your Product
+:| Pricing aná 8ignup
+:- lree Samples
+:¬ Lasv On, Lasv OĄ
+:o Sillv Pabbit, 1ricks are tor Kids
+:o A Sotter Bullet
+:+ Promoiion
+:: Hollvvood Iaunch
+:- A Povertul Promo Site
+:o Pide the Blog Wave
+:¬ Solicit Larlv
+:: Promote 1hrough Lducation
+|+ leature lood
+|: 1rack Your Iogs
+|| Inline Lpsell
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+|- Name Hook
+|o 8uppori
+|¬ leel 1he Pain
+|o Zero 1raining
+-o Ansver Quick
+-: 1ough Iove
+-| In line lorum
+-- Publicize Your Screvups
+-¬ Posi-Launch
+-: One Month 1uneup
+-o Keep the Posts Coming
+o+ Better, Not Beta
+o: All Bugs Are Not Created Lqual
+o: Pide Out the Storm
+o| Keep Lp With the loneses
+o- Bevare the Bloat Monster
+oo Go With the llov
+o¬ Conclusion
+o: Start Your Lngines
+¬+ 37signals Pesources
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1hat is ·ettiug Peai`
¬|out 37siguais
Ca:eats, oisciaimers, auo other preempti:e strikes
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¼hai is Ceiiing Real?
Want to build a successtul veb app· 1hen it`s time to Get Peal.
Getting Peal is a smaller, taster, better vav to build sottvare.
Getting Peal is about skipping all the stuĄ that
represeuts real (charts, graphs, boxes, arrovs, schematics,
viretrames, etc.) and actuaiiy |uiioiug the reai thiug.
Getting real is less. Iess mass, less sottvare, less teatures,
less papervork, less ot evervthing that`s not essential (and
most ot vhat vou think is essential actuallv isn`t).
Getting Peal is staving small and being agile.
Getting Peal starts vith the intertace, the real screens that
people are going to use. It begins vith vhat the customer
actuallv experiences and builds backvards trom there. 1his lets
vou get the intertace right betore vou get the sottvare vrong.
Getting Peal is about iterations and lovering the
cost ot change. Getting Peal is all about launching,
tveaking, and constantlv improving vhich makes
it a pertect approach tor veb-based sottvare.
Getting Peal delivers just vhat customers need
and eliminates anvthing thev don`t.
1he benehts of Getting Real
Getting Peal delivers better results because it torces vou to deal
vith the actual problems vou`re trving to solve instead ot vour
ideas about those problems. It torces vou to deal vith realitv.
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Getting Peal toregoes tunctional specs and other transitorv
documentation in tavor ot building real screens. A tunctional
spec is make-believe, an illusion ot agreement, vhile an actual
veb page is realitv. 1hat`s vhat vour customers are going to see
and use. 1hat`s vhat matters. Getting Peal gets vou there taster.
And that means vou`re making sottvare decisions based on the
real thing instead ot abstract notions.
linallv, Getting Peal is an approach ideallv suited to veb-based
sottvare. 1he old school model ot shipping sottvare in a box
and then vaiting a vear or tvo to deliver an update is tading
avav. Lnlike installed sottvare, veb apps can constantlv evolve
on a dav-to-dav basis. Getting Peal leverages this advantage tor
all its vorth.
Hou lo 1rite 1igorous :o/tuare
Vigorous vriting is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessarv
vords, a paragraph no unnecessarv sentences, tor the same reason that a
draving should have no unnecessarv lines and a machine no unnecessarv
parts. 1his requires not that the vriter make all sentences short or avoid
all detail and treat subjects onlv in outline, but that everv vord tell.
From "The Elemenis of 8iyle' ly ¼illiam 8irunk jr.
No nore bloat
1he old vav: a lengthv, bureaucratic, ve`re-doing-this-to-cover-
our-asses process. 1he tvpical result: bloated, torgettable sott-
vare dripping vith mediocritv. Blech.
Getting Real gets rid of...
1imelines that take months or even vears
Pie-in-the-skv tunctional specs
Scalabilitv debates
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Interminable staĄ meetings
1he need¨ to hire dozens ot emplovees
Meaningless version numbers
Pristine roadmaps that predict the pertect tuture
Lndless preterence options
Outsourced support
Lnrealistic user testing
Lseless papervork
1op-dovn hierarchv
You don`t need tons ot monev or a huge team or a lengthv
development cvcle to build great sottvare. 1hose things are the
ingredients tor slov, murkv, changeless applications. Getting
real takes the opposite approach.
In this book ve¯ll shov you...
1he importance ot having a philosophv
Whv staving small is a good thing
Hov to build less
Hov to get trom idea to realitv quicklv
Hov to staĄ vour team
Whv vou should design trom the inside out
Whv vriting is so crucial
Whv vou should underdo vour competition
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Hov to promote vour app and spread the vord
Secrets to successtul support
1ips on keeping momentum going atter launch
...and lots more
1he tocus is on big-picture ideas. We von`t bog vou dovn vith
detailed code snippets or css tricks. We`ll stick to the major
ideas and philosophies that drive the Getting Peal process.
Is this book for you?
You`re an entrepreneur, designer, programmer, or marketer
vorking on a big idea.
You realize the old rules don`t applv anvmore. Distribute vour
sottvare on ci-roxs everv vear· Hov :oo:. Version numbers·
Out the vindov. You need to build, launch, and tveak. 1hen
rinse and repeat.
Or mavbe vou`re not vet on board vith agile development and
business structures, but vou`re eager to learn more.
If this sounds like you, then this book is for you.
Note: While this book`s emphasis is on building a veb app,
a lot ot these ideas are applicable to non-sottvare activities too.
1he suggestions about small teams, rapid prototvping, expect-
ing iterations, and manv others presented here can serve as a
guide vhether vou`re starting a business, vriting a book,
designing a veb site, recording an album, or doing a varietv
ot other endeavors. Once vou start Getting Peal in one area ot
vour lite, vou`ll see hov these concepts can applv to a vide
range ot activities.
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Aloui 3'signals
What ve do
37signals is a small team that creates simple, tocused sottvare.
Our products help vou collaborate and get organized. More
than :-o,ooo people and small businesses use our veb-apps to
get things done. leremv WagstaĄ, ot the Wall Street lournal,
vrote, 37signals products are beautitullv simple, elegant and
intuitive tools that make an Outlook screen look like the sott-
vare equivalent ot a torture chamber.¨ Our apps never put vou
on the rack.
Our nodus operandi
We believe sottvare is too complex. 1oo manv teatures, too
manv buttons, too much to learn. Our products do less than
the competition ÷ intentionallv. We build products that vork
smarter, teel better, allov vou to do things vour vav, and are
easier to use.
Our products
As ot the publishing date ot this book, ve have tve commercial
products and one open source veb application tramevork.
Basecanp turns project management on its head. Instead ot
Gantt charts, tancv graphs, and stats-heavv spreadsheets, Base-
camp oĄers message boards, to-do lists, simple scheduling, col-
laborative vriting, and tle sharing. So tar, hundreds ot thou-
sands agree it`s a better vav. larhad Manjoo ot Salon.com said
Basecamp represents the tuture ot sottvare on the Web.¨
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Canphre brings simple group chat to the business setting.
Businesses in the knov understand hov valuable real-time
persistent group chat can be. Conventional instant messaging is
great tor quick 1-on-1 chats, but it`s miserable tor 3 or more
people at once. Camptre solves that problem and plentv more.
Backpack is the alternative to those contusing, complex, orga-
nize vour lite in :- simple steps¨ personal intormation managers.
Backpack`s simple take on pages, notes, to-dos, and cellphone´
email-based reminders is a novel idea in a product categorv that
suĄers trom status-quo-itis. 1homas Weber ot the Wall Street
lournal said it`s the best product in its class and David Pogue ot
the Nev York 1imes called it a verv cool¨ organization tool.
Writeboard lets vou vrite, share, revise, and compare text
solo or vith others. It`s the retreshing alternative to bloated
vord processors that are overkill tor o-° ot vhat vou vrite.
lohn Gruber ot Daring lireball said, Writeboard might be the
clearest, simplest veb application I`ve ever seen.¨ Web-guru
leĄrev Zeldman said, 1he brilliant minds at 37signals have
done it again.¨
1a-da List keeps all vour to-do lists together and organized
online. Keep the lists to vourselt or share them vith others tor
easv collaboration. 1here`s no easier vav to get things done.
Over +oo,ooo lists vith nearlv +,ooo,ooo items have been
created so tar.
Ruby on Rails, tor developers, is a tull-stack, open-source
veb tramevork in Pubv tor vriting real-vorld applications
quicklv and easilv. Pails takes care ot the busv vork so vou can
tocus on vour idea. Nathan 1orkington ot the O`Peillv publish-
ing empire said Pubv on Pails is astounding. Lsing it is like
vatching a kung-tu movie, vhere a dozen bad-ass tramevorks
prepare to beat up the little nevcomer onlv to be handed their
asses in a varietv ot imaginative vavs.¨ Gotta love that quote.
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You can tnd our more about our products and our companv on
our veb site at: http:´´vvv.37signals.com.
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Careais, áisclaimers, aná oiher
preempiire sirikes
lust to get it out ot the vav, here are our responses to some com-
plaints ve hear everv nov and again:
¬1hese techniques von¯t vork for ne.¨
Getting real is a svstem that`s vorked territcallv tor us. 1hat
said, the ideas in this book von`t applv to everv project under
the sun. It vou are building a veapons svstem, a nuclear control
plant, a banking svstem tor millions ot customers, or some other
lite´tnance-critical svstem, vou`re going to balk at some ot our
laissez-taire attitude. Go ahead and take additional precautions.
And it doesn`t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Lven it
vou can`t embrace Getting Peal tullv, there are bound to be at
least a tev ideas in here vou can sneak past the povers that be.
¬You didn¯t invent that idea.¨
We`re not claiming to have invented these techniques.
Manv ot these concepts have been around in one torm or
another tor a long time. Don`t get huĄv it vou read some
ot our advice and it reminds vou ot something vou read
about alreadv on so and so`s veblog or in some book pub-
lished :o vears ago. It`s detnitelv possible. 1hese tech-
niques are not at all exclusive to 37signals. We`re just telling
vou hov ve vork and vhat`s been successtul tor us.
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¬You take too nuch of a black and vhite viev.¨
It our tone seems too knov-it-allish, bear vith us. We think it`s
better to present ideas in bold strokes than to be vishv-vashv
about it. It that comes oĄ as cockv or arrogant, so be it. We`d
rather be provocative than vater evervthing dovn vith it
depends...¨ Ot course there vill be times vhen these rules need
to be stretched or broken. And some ot these tactics mav not
applv to vour situation. Lse vour judgement and imagination.
¬1his von¯t vork inside ny conpany.¨
1hink vou`re too big to Get Peal· Lven Microsott is Getting
Peal (and ve doubt vou`re bigger than them).
Lven it vour companv tvpicallv runs on long-term schedules
vith big teams, there are still vavs to get real.1he trst step is
to break up into smaller units. When there`s too manv people
involved, nothing gets done. 1he leaner vou are, the taster ÷ and
better ÷ things get done.
Granted, it mav take some salesmanship. Pitch vour companv on
the Getting Peal process. Shov them this book. Shov them the
real results vou can achieve in less time and vith a smaller team.
Lxplain that Getting Peal is a lov-risk, lov-investment vav to
test nev concepts. See it vou can split oĄ trom the mothership
on a smaller project as a proot ot concept. Demonstrate results.
Or, it vou reallv vant to be ballsv, go stealth. llv under the
radar and demonstrate real results. 1hat`s the approach the
Start.com team has used vhile Getting Peal at Microsott. I`ve
vatched the Start.com team vork. 1hev don`t ask permission,¨
savs Pobert Scoble, 1echnical Lvangelist at Microsott. 1hev
have a boss that provides air cover. And thev bite oĄ a little bit
at a time and do that and respond to teedback.¨
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:hippiug Microso/t`s :tart.com
In big companies, processes and meetings are the norm. Manv months are
spent on planning teatures and arguing details vith the goal ot evervone
reaching an agreement on vhat is the right¨ thing tor the customer.
1hat mav be the right approach tor shrink-vrapped sottvare, but vith the veb
ve have an incredible advantage. lust ship it' Iet the user tell vou it it`s the right
thing and it it`s not, hev vou can tx it and ship it to the veb the same dav it
vou vant' 1here is no vord stronger than the customer`s ÷ resist the urge to
engage in long-vinded meetings and arguments. lust ship it and prove a point.
Much easier said than done ÷ this implies:
Months ot planning are not necessarv.
Months ot vriting specs are not necessarv ÷ specs should have the toundations
nailed and details tgured out and retned during the development phase. Don`t
trv to close all open issues and nail everv single detail betore development starts.
Ship less teatures, but qualitv teatures.
You don`t need a big bang approach vith a vhole nev release and
bunch ot teatures. Give the users bvte-size pieces that thev can digest.
It there are minor bugs, ship it as soon vou have the core scenarios
nailed and ship the bug txes to veb graduallv atter that. 1he taster
vou get the user teedback the better. Ideas can sound great on paper
but in practice turn out to be suboptimal. 1he sooner vou tnd out
about tundamental issues that are vrong vith an idea, the better.
Once vou iterate quicklv and react on customer teedback, vou
vill establish a customer connection. Pemember the goal is
to vin the customer bv building vhat thev vant.
-8anaz Ahari, Program Manager of 8iari.com, Microsofi
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The 8iariing Line
Puiio Less
1hat`s Your Iro|iem`
Iuuo Yoursei/
Iix lime auo Puoget, Iiex :cope
Ha:e au Luemy
It :houiou`t |e a Chore
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Builá Less
Underdo your conpetition
Conventional visdom savs that to beat vour competitors vou
need to one-up them. It thev have tour teatures, vou need tve
(or +-, or :-). It thev`re spending x, vou need to spend xx. It
thev have :o, vou need :o.
1his sort ot one-upping Cold War mentalitv is a dead-end. It`s
an expensive, detensive, and paranoid vav ot building products.
Detensive, paranoid companies can`t think ahead, thev can onlv
think behind. 1hev don`t lead, thev tollov.
I/ you uaut to |uiio a compauy that /oiious, you might as ueii put oouu
this |ook uou.
So vhat to do then· 1he ansver is less. Do less than vour com-
petitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the
hairv, diącult, nastv problems to evervone else. Instead ot one-
upping, trv one-dovning. Instead ot outdoing, trv underdoing.
We`ll cover the concept ot less throughout this book, but tor
starters, less means:
Iess teatures
Iess options´preterences
Iess people and corporate structure
Iess meetings and abstractions
Iess promises
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¼hai's Your Prollem?
Build softvare for yourself
A great vav to build sottvare is to start out bv solving vour ovn
problems. You`ll be the target audience and vou`ll knov vhat`s
important and vhat`s not. 1hat gives vou a great head start on
delivering a breakout product.
1he kev here is understanding that vou`re not alone. It vou`re
having this problem, it`s likelv hundreds ot thousands ot others
are in the same boat. 1here`s vour market. Wasn`t that easv·
Basecamp originated in a problem: As a design trm ve
needed a simple vav to communicate vith our clients
about projects. We started out doing this via client ex-
tranets vhich ve vould update manuallv. But changing the
n+xi bv hand everv time a project needed to be updated
just vasn`t vorking. 1hese project sites alvavs seemed to
go stale and eventuallv vere abandoned. It vas trustrating
because it lett us disorganized and lett clients in the dark.
So ve started looking at other options. Yet everv tool ve tound
either 1) didn`t do vhat ve needed or 2) vas bloated vith tea-
tures ve didn`t need ÷ like billing, strict access controls, charts,
graphs, etc. We knev there had to be a better vav so ve decided
to build our ovn.
When vou solve vour ovn problem, vou create a tool that vou`re
passionate about. And passion is kev. Passion means vou`ll trulv
use it and care about it. And that`s the best vav to get others to
teel passionate about it too.
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:cratchiug your ouu itch
1he Open Source vorld embraced this mantra a long time ago
÷ thev call it scratching vour ovn itch.¨ lor the open source
developers, it means thev get the tools thev vant, delivered the
vav thev vant them. But the benett goes much deeper.
As the designer or developer ot a nev application, vou`re taced vith
hundreds ot micro-decisions each and everv dav: blue or green· One
table or tvo· Static or dvnamic· Abort or recover· Hov do ve make
these decisions· It it`s something ve recognize as being important, ve
might ask. 1he rest, ve guess. And all that guessing builds up a kind ot
debt in our applications ÷ an interconnected veb ot assumptions.
As a developer, I hate this. 1he knovledge ot all these small-scale
timebombs in the applications I vrite adds to mv stress. Open Source
developers, scratching their ovn itches, don`t suĄer this. Because thev are
their ovn users, thev knov the correct ansvers to oo° ot the decisions
thev have to make. I think this is one ot the reasons tolks come home
atter a hard dav ot coding and then vork on open source: It`s relaxing.
÷Dare Thomas, The Pragmaiic Programmers
Poru out o/ uecessity
Campaign Monitor reallv vas born out ot necessitv. lor vears ve`d
been trustrated bv the qualitv ot the email marketing options out
there. One tool vould do x and . but never z, the next had .
and z nailed but just couldn`t get x right. We couldn`t vin.
We decided to clear our schedule and have a go at building our
dream email marketing tool. We consciouslv decided not to look
at vhat evervone else vas doing and instead build something that
vould make ours and our customer`s lives a little easier.
As it turned out, ve veren`t the onlv ones vho vere unhappv vith
the options out there. We made a tev moditcations to the sottvare
so anv design trm could use it and started spreading the vord. In
less than six months, thousands ot designers vere using Campaign
Monitor to send email nevsletters tor themselves and their clients.
÷Dariá Creiner, founáer, Campaign Moniior
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You ueeo to care a|out it
When vou vrite a book, vou need to have more than an interesting storv.
You need to have a desire to tell the storv. You need to be personallv
invested in some vav. It vou`re going to live vith something tor tvo
vears, three vears, the rest ot vour lite, vou need to care about it.
÷Malcolm Claáuell, auihor ( from A Feu Thin 8lices of Malcolm Claáuell)
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Funá Yourself
Outside noney is plan B
1he trst prioritv ot manv startups is acquiring tunding trom
investors. But remember, it vou turn to outsiders tor tunding,
vou`ll have to ansver to them too. Lxpectations are raised.
Investors vant their monev back ÷ and quicklv. 1he sad tact is
cashing in otten begins to trump building a qualitv product.
1hese davs it doesn`t take much to get rolling. Hardvare
is cheap and plentv ot great intrastructure sottvare is open
source and tree. And passion doesn`t come vith a price tag.
So do vhat vou can vith the cash on hand. 1hink hard and
determine vhat`s reallv essential and vhat vou can do vithout.
What can vou do vith three people instead ot ten· What can
vou do vith x:ok instead ot x+ook· What can vou do in three
months instead ot six· What can vou do it vou keep vour dav
job and build vour app on the side·
Constraints force creativity
Pun on limited resources and vou`ll be torced to reckon vith
constraints earlier and more intenselv. And that`s a good thing.
Constraints drive innovation.
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Constraints also torce vou to get vour idea out in the vild
sooner rather than later ÷ another good thing. A month or tvo
out ot the gates vou should have a prettv good idea ot vhether
vou`re onto something or not. It vou are, vou`ll be selt-sustain-
able shortlv and von`t need external cash. It vour idea`s a lemon,
it`s time to go back to the draving board. At least vou knov
nov as opposed to months (or vears) dovn the road. And at least
vou can back out easilv. Lxit plans get a lot trickier once inves-
tors are involved.
It vou`re creating sottvare just to make a quick buck, it vill
shov. 1ruth is a quick pavout is prettv unlikelv. So tocus on
building a qualitv tool that vou and vour customers can live
vith tor a long time.
luo paths
[lake Walker started one companv vith investor monev (Disclive) and one
vithout (1he Shov). Here he discusses the diĄerences betveen the tvo paths.|
1he root ot all the problems vasn`t raising monev itselt, but evervthing that
came along vith it. 1he expectations are simplv higher. People start taking salarv,
and the motivation is to build it up and sell it, or tnd some other vav tor the
initial investors to make their monev back. In the case ot the trst companv,
ve simplv started acting much bigger than ve vere ÷ out ot necessitv...
[With 1he Shov| ve realized that ve could deliver a much better product
vith less costs, onlv vith more time. And ve gambled vith a bit ot our ovn
monev that people vould be villing to vait tor qualitv over speed. But the
companv has staved (and vill likelv continue to be) a small operation. And ever
since that trst project, ve`ve been tullv selt tunded. With just a bit ot creative
terms trom our vendors, ve`ve never reallv need to put much ot our ovn
monev into the operation at all. And the expectation isn`t to grov and sell, but
to grov tor the sake ot grovth and to continue to benett trom it tnanciallv.
÷A commeni from 8ignal rs. Noise
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Fix Time aná Buágei, Flex 8cope
Launch on tine and on budget
Here`s an easv vav to launch on time and on budget: keep them
txed. Never throv more time or monev at a problem, just scale
back the scope.
1here`s a mvth that goes like this: ve can launch on time, on
budget, and on scope. It almost never happens and vhen it does
qualitv otten suĄers.
It vou can`t tt evervthing in vithin the time and budget allot-
ted then don`t expand the time and budget. Instead, pull back
the scope. 1here`s alvavs time to add stuĄ later ÷ later is eternal,
nov is neeting.
Iaunching something great that`s a little smaller in scope than
planned is better than launching something mediocre and tull
ot holes because vou had to hit some magical time, budget, and
scope vindov. Ieave the magic to Houdini. You`ve got a real
business to run and a real product to deliver.
Here are the benetts ot txing time and budget, and keeping
scope nexible:
You have to tgure out vhat`s reallv important. What`s
going to make it into this initial release· 1his torces
a constraint on vou vhich vill push vou to make
tough decisions instead ot hemming and having.
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Setting expectations is kev. It vou trv to tx time, budget,
and scope, vou von`t be able to deliver at a high level
ot qualitv. Sure, vou can probablv deliver something,
but is something¨ vhat vou reallv vant to deliver·
1he abilitv to change is kev. Having evervthing txed
makes it tough to change. Injecting scope nexibilitv
vill introduce options based on vour real experience
building the product. llexibilitv is vour triend.
Our recommendation: Scope dovn. It`s better to make halt a
product than a halt-assed product (more on this later).
Cue, tuo, three...
Hov does a project get to be a vear behind schedule· One dav at a time.
-Freá Brooks, sofiuare engineer aná compuier scieniisi
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Hare an Enemy
Pick a hght
Sometimes the best vav to knov vhat vour app should be is
to knov vhat it shouldn`t be. ligure out vour app`s enemv and
vou`ll shine a light on vhere vou need to go.
When ve decided to create project management sottvare, ve
knev Microsott Project vas the gorilla in the room. Instead ot
tearing the gorilla, ve used it as a motivator. We decided Base-
camp vould be something completelv diĄerent, the anti-Project.
We realized project management isn`t about charts, graphs,
reports and statistics ÷ it`s about communication. It also isn`t
about a project manager sitting up high and broadcasting a
project plan. It`s about evervone taking responsibilitv together to
make the project vork.
Our enemv vas the Project Management Dictators and the tools
thev used to crack the vhip. We vanted to democratize project
management ÷ make it something evervone vas a part ot (in-
cluding the client). Projects turn out better vhen evervone takes
collective ovnership ot the process.
When it came to Writeboard, ve knev there vere competi-
tors out there vith lots ot vhizbang teatures. So ve decided to
emphasize a no tuss¨ angle instead. We created an app that let
people share and collaborate on ideas simplv, vithout bogging
them dovn vith non-essential teatures. It it vasn`t essential, ve
lett it out. And in just three months atter launch, over +oo,ooo
Writeboards have been created.
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When ve started on Backpack our enemv vas structure and
rigid rules. People should be able to organize their intormation
their ovn vav ÷ not based on a series ot pretormatted screens or
a plethora ot required torm telds.
One bonus vou get trom having an enemv is a verv clear mar-
keting message. People are stoked bv connict. And thev also
understand a product bv comparing it to others. With a chosen
enemv, vou`re teeding people a storv thev vant to hear. Not
onlv vill thev understand vour product better and taster,
thev`ll take sides. And that`s a sure-tre vav to get attention and
ignite passion.
Nov vith all that said, it`s also important to not get too ob-
sessed vith the competition. Overanalvze other products and
vou`ll start to limit the vav vou think. 1ake a look and then
move on to vour ovn vision and vour ovn ideas.
Dou`t /oiiou the ieaoer
Marketers (and all human beings) are vell trained to tollov the leader. 1he
natural instinct is to tgure out vhat`s vorking tor the competition and then
trv to outdo it ÷ to be cheaper than vour competitor vho competes on
price, or taster than the competitor vho competes on speed. 1he problem
is that once a consumer has bought someone else`s storv and believes that
lie, persuading the consumer to svitch is the same as persuading him to
admit he vas vrong. And people hate admitting that thev`re vrong.
Instead, vou must tell a diĄerent storv and persuade listeners that
vour storv is more important than the storv thev currentlv believe.
It vour competition is taster, vou must be cheaper. It thev sell the
storv ot health, vou must sell the storv ot convenience. Not just the
positioning x´v axis sort ot We are cheaper¨ claim, but a real storv
that is completelv diĄerent trom the storv that`s alreadv being told.
÷8eih Coáin, auihor/enirepreneur ( from Be a Beiier Liar)
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1hat`s the key pro|iem`
One ot the quickest vavs to get vourselt into trouble is to look at vhat
vour competitors are doing. 1his has been especiallv true tor us at BlinkIist.
Since ve launched there have been about +o other social bookmarking
services that have been launched. Some people have even started to generate
spreadsheets online vith a detailed teature bv teature comparison.
Hovever, this can quicklv lead one astrav. Instead, ve stav tocused
on the big picture and keep asking ourselves, vhat is the kev
problem ve are trving to solve and hov can ve solve it.
÷Michael Reining, co-founáer, Miná1alley L Blinklisi
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Ii 8houlán'i le a Chore
Your passion ÷ or lack of ÷ vill shine through
1he less vour app is a chore to build, the better it vill be. Keep
it small and managable so vou can actuallv enjov the process.
It vour app doesn`t excite vou, something`s vrong. It vou`re onlv
vorking on it in order to cash out, it vill shov. Iikevise, it vou
teel passionatelv about vour app, it vill come through in the
tnal product. People can read betveen the lines.
lhe preseuce o/ passiou
In design, vhere meaning is otten controversiallv subjective or
paintullv inscrutable, tev things are more apparent and lucid than
the presence ot passion. 1his is true vhether the design ot a product
delights vou or leaves vou cold, in either case it`s diącult not to
detect the emotional investment ot the hands that built it.
Lnthusiasm manitests itselt readilv ot course, but indiĄerence is equallv
indelible. It vour commitment doesn`t encompass a genuine passion
tor the vork at hand, it becomes a void that is almost impossible to
conceal, no matter hov elaboratelv or attractivelv designed it is.
÷Khoi 1inh, 8uliraciion.com aná co-founáer of Beharior iic
lhe |akery
American business at this point is reallv about developing an idea,
making it prottable, selling it vhile it`s prottable and then getting
out or diversitving. It`s just about sucking evervthing up. Mv idea vas:
Lnjov baking, sell vour bread, people like it, sell more. Keep the bakerv
going because vou`re making good tood and people are happv.
÷Ian MacKaye, memler of Fugazi aná co-ouner of Dischorá Recorás
( from 8alon.com People 1 Ian MacKaye)
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8iay Lean
Less Mass
Louer Your Cost o/ Chauge
lhe lhree Musketeers
Lm|race Coustraiuts
Pe Yoursei/
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Less Mass
1he leaner you are, the easier it is to change
1he more massive an object, the more energv is required to
change its direction. It`s as true in the business vorld as it is in
the phvsical vorld.
When it comes to veb technologv, change must be easv and
cheap. It vou can`t change on the nv, vou`ll lose ground to
someone vho can. 1hat`s vhv vou need to shoot tor less mass.
Mass is increased by...
Iong term contracts
Lxcess staĄ
Permanent decisions
Meetings about other meetings
1hick process
Inventorv (phvsical or mental)
Hardvare, sottvare, technologv lock-ins
Proprietarv data tormats
1he past ruling the tuture
Iong-term roadmaps
Oące politics
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Mass is reduced by...
lust-in-time thinking
Multi-tasking team members
Lmbracing constraints, not trving to litt them
Iess sottvare, less code
Iess teatures
Small team size
Pared-dovn intertaces
Open-source products
Open data tormats
An open culture that makes it easv to admit mistakes
Iess mass lets vou change direction quicklv. You can react and
evolve. You can tocus on the good ideas and drop the bad ones.
You can listen and respond to vour customers. You can integrate
nev technologies nov instead ot later. Instead ot an aircratt
carrier, vou steer a cigarette boat. Pevel in that tact.
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lor example, let`s imagine a lean, less mass companv that has
built a product vith less sottvare and less teatures. On the
other side is a more mass companv that`s got a product vith
signitcantlv more sottvare and more teatures. 1hen let`s sav a
nev technologv like Ajax or a nev concept like tagging comes
around. Who is going to be able to adapt their product quicker·
1he team vith more sottvare and more teatures and a +:-month
roadmap or the team vith less sottvare and less teatures and
a more organic let`s tocus on vhat ve need to tocus on right
nov¨ process·
Obviouslv the less-mass companv is in a better position to
adjust to the real demands ot the marketplace. 1he more-mass
companv vill likelv still be discussing changes or pushing
them through its bureaucratic process long atter the less-mass
companv has made the svitch. 1he less mass companv vill be
tvo steps ahead vhile the more mass companv is still tguring
out hov to valk.
Nimble, agile, less-mass businesses can quicklv change their
entire business model, product, teature set, and marketing
message. 1hev can make mistakes and tx them quicklv. 1hev
can change their priorities, product mix, and tocus. And, most
importantlv, they can change their ninds.
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Louer Your Cosi of Change
Stay ñe×ible by reducing obstacles to change
Change is vour best triend. 1he more expensive it is to make a
change, the less likelv vou`ll make it. And it vour competitors
can change taster than vou, vou`re at a huge disadvantage. It
change gets too expensive, vou`re dead.
Here`s vhere staving lean reallv helps vou out. 1he abilitv to
change on a dime is one thing small teams have bv detault that
big teams can never have. 1his is vhere the big guvs envv the
little guvs. What might take a big team in a huge organization
veeks to change mav onlv take a dav in a small, lean organiza-
tion. 1hat advantage is priceless. Cheap and tast changes are
small`s secret veapon.
And remember: All the cash, all the marketing, all the people in
the vorld can`t buv the agilitv vou get trom being small.
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Lmergence is one ot the tounding principles ot agilitv, and is the closest
one to pure magic. Lmergent properties aren`t designed or built in, thev
simplv happen as a dvnamic result ot the rest ot the svstem. Lmergence¨
comes trom middle +¬th centurv Iatin in the sense ot an untoreseen
occurrence.¨ You can`t plan tor it or schedule it, but vou can cultivate
an environment vhere vou can let it happen and benett trom it.
A classic example ot emergence lies in the nocking behavior ot birds.
A computer simulation can use as tev as three simple rules (along the
lines ot don`t run into each other¨) and suddenlv vou get verv complex
behavior as the nock vends and vatts its vav gracetullv through the
skv, retorming around obstacles, and so on. None ot this advanced
behavior (such as retorming the same shape around an obstacle) is
specited bv the rules, it emerges trom the dvnamics ot the svstem.
Simple rules, as vith the birds simulation, lead to complex behavior. Complex
rules, as vith the tax lav in most countries, lead to stupid behavior.
Manv common sottvare development practices have the untortunate side-
eĄect ot eliminating anv chance tor emergent behavior. Most attempts at
optimization ÷ tving something dovn verv explicitlv ÷ reduces the breadth
and scope ot interactions and relationships, vhich is the verv source ot
emergence. In the nocking birds example, as vith a vell-designed svstem,
it`s the interactions and relationships that create the interesting behavior.
1he harder ve tighten things dovn, the less room there is tor a creative,
emergent solution. Whether it`s locking dovn requirements betore
thev are vell understood or prematurelv optimizing code, or inventing
complex navigation and vorknov scenarios betore letting end users
plav vith the svstem, the result is the same: an overlv complicated, stupid
svstem instead ot a clean, elegant svstem that harnesses emergence.
Keep it small. Keep it simple. Iet it happen.
÷Anáreu Huni, The Pragmaiic Programmers
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The Three Muskeieers
Use a tean of three for version
lor the trst version ot vour app, start vith onlv three people.
1hat`s the magic number that vill give vou enough manpover
vet allov vou to stav streamlined and agile. Start vith a develop-
er, a designer, and a sveeper (someone vho can roam betveen
both vorlds).
Nov sure, it`s a challenge to build an app vith onlv a tev
people. But it vou`ve got the right team, it`s vorth it. 1alented
people don`t need endless resources. 1hev thrive on the chal-
lenge ot vorking vithin restraints and using their creativitv to
solve problems. Your lack ot manpover means vou`ll be torced
to deal vith tradeoĄs earlier in the process ÷ and that`s alright. It
vill make vou tgure out vour priorities earlier rather than later.
And vou`ll be able to communicate vithout constantlv having to
vorrv about leaving people out ot the loop.
It vou can`t build vour version one vith three people, then vou
either need diĄerent people or need to slim dovn vour initial
version. Pemember, it`s ok to keep vour trst version small and
tight. You`ll quicklv get to see it vour idea has vings and, it it
does, vou`ll have a clean, simple base to build on.
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Metcai/e`s Lau auo project teams
Keep the team as small as possible. Metcalte`s Iav, that the value ot a
communication svstem grovs at approximatelv the square ot the number
ot users ot the svstem,¨ has a corollarv vhen it comes to project teams:
1he eąciencv ot the team is approximatelv the inverse ot the square ot
the number ot members in the team. I`m beginning to think three people
is optimal tor a +.o product release...Start out bv reducing the number
ot people vou plan to add to the team, and then reduce some more.
÷Marc Heáluná, enirepreneur-in-resiáence ai O'Reilly Meáia
Commuuicatiou ßou
Communication novs more easilv on small teams than large teams. It
vou`re the onlv person on a project, communication is simple. 1he onlv
communication path is betveen vou and the customer. As the number ot
people on a project increases, hovever, so does the number ot communication
paths. It doesn`t increase additivelv, as the number ot people increases, it
increases multiplicativelv, proportional to the square ot the number ot people.
÷8iere McConnell, Chief 8ofiuare Engineer ai Consirux 8ofiuare Builáers
Inc. ( from Less is More· jumpsiariing Proáuciiriiy uiih 8mall Teams)
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Emlrace Consirainis
Let linitations guide you to creative solutions
1here`s never enough to go around. Not enough time. Not
enough monev. Not enough people.
lhat`s a gooo thiug.
Instead ot treaking out about these constraints, embrace
them. Iet them guide vou. Constraints drive innovation and
torce tocus. Instead ot trving to remove them, use them to
vour advantage.
When 37signals vas building Basecamp, ve had plentv ot limi-
tations. We had:
A design trm to run
Lxisting client vork
A ¬-hour time diĄerence (David vas doing the programming
in Denmark, the rest ot us vere in the States)
A small team
No outside tunding
We telt the not enough¨ blues. So ve kept our plate small.
1hat vav ve could onlv put so much on it. We took big tasks
and broke them up into small bits that ve tackled one at a time.
We moved step bv step and prioritized as ve vent along.
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1hat torced us to come up vith creative solutions. We lovered
our cost ot change bv alvavs building less sottvare. We gave
people just enough teatures to solve their ovn problems their
ovn vav ÷ and then ve got out ot the vav. 1he time diĄerence
and distance betveen us made us more eącient in our com-
munication. Instead ot meeting in person, ve communicated
almost exclusivelv via IM and email vhich torced us to get to the
point quicklv.
Constraints are otten advantages in disguise. lorget about
venture capital, long release cvcles, and quick hires. Instead,
vork vith vhat vou have.
What has been described as creeping elegance¨ is probablv better described
as teature blight,¨ tor like a tungus on a plant it graduallv elaborates and blurs
the true outline ot the product vhile it drains its sap. 1he antidote to teature
blight is, ot course, the constricting deadline.¨ 1his results in teatures being
discarded in proportion to the time it vould take to implement them. It is
otten the case that the most usetul teatures take the longest to implement.
1hus the combination ot the blight and the deadline vields sottvare as ve
knov and love it, comprised ot bountitul quantities ot useless teatures.
÷jef Raskin, auihor ( from ¼hy 8ofiuare Is ihe ¼ay Ii Is)
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