I have been a long admirer of Jason Fried of 37Signals and read his first book Getting Real. Jason along with DHH have put forth many of the ideas from that book along with other ideas from their blog Signal vs. Noise into a new book Rework. I just finished reading it and though it reiterates many ideas from the earlier book “Getting Real” and their blogs, it’s worth re-reading those ideas as many of business companies today still runs on old fallacies. The book consists of thirteen sections and over eighty ideas, here are my favorite ideas from the book:
Failure is not a rite of passage
I have heared the advice from startup folks about “Fail early and fail often.” On the contrary, this book shows people who learn from mistakes will make new mistakes, instead success shows what actually works. Another related avice in the book is “Reason to quit”, which shows when you can quit and choose something else. When I read Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days, it also showed that most startups don’t stick to their original ideas and move to other ideas based on early feedback.
Planning is Guessing
This is related to another advice from the book “Your estimates suck” as Planning and Estimation is hard especially in software business. I have written about Software Estimation in my earlier blogs, however most places still equate estimates with commitments. Jason and DHH reminds us again that estimates are just guesses that were made based on the best information available at the time.
This is another unorthodox advice that is contradictory to how most software projects are run. Most companies measure workers’ dedication on how many hours he/she put even when they are not actually producing. This is also common when managers treat estimates as commitments and refuse to admit reality when things change. We are all familiar with iron triangle of schedule/cost/functionality or sometime referred to as cost/quality/schedule or cost/resourcs/schedule. Often business folks are unwilling to change schedule and functionality, which often requires working late hours. This is also related to Heroism, which I have blogged before and go to sleep, as workholism can result in sleep deprivation, which reduces creativity and productivity.
Scratch your own itch
Most successful businesses started with hobbies or personal interests or problems and there are tons of examples of this. This advice is also related to eat your own dog food, though not mentioned in this book.
Start making something
Jason and DHH reminds us another great point that ideas are cheap and the real question is how well you execute them.
Draw a line in the sand
One of the key characteristics of Ruby on Rails software that DHH produced is having strong opinions that limits variations. Similarly, 37Signals is known for their simple design and limited features. You can differentiate yourself from others by standing for something.
Outside money is Plan Z
Both DHH and Jason often talked about downside of getting money from venture capitalists and I agree that these days you can start most software startups with minimal money and raising money can be very distracting. Another related tip that “building a flip is building to flop”, which is often what startup founders hope to get out.
Start at the epicenter
This book advices you to focus on your core product. Though, this book briefly mentiosn this topic but there is a great presentation of Video of Geoffrey Moore at Business of Software 2009 that talks about similar topic. This advice is also reated to other tips from the book such as “don’t copy”, “decommoditize your product”, “focus on you instead of they”, i.e., focus on your core strengths and not your competitors.
Focus on what won’t change
This is great advice for building business that will last. I remember when I started working at Amazon, we were told the core values of Amazon that included having a large selection, cheap prices, customer service and everything we built started from outside-in focus, i.e., it started with customers.
Get it out here
This is similar to common advice from the startup and agile community, i.e. release early and release often.
Interruption is the enemy of productivity
More and more research is showing that our brain can’t focus on onething at a time, and constant interruption and multi-tasking hampers your productivity. This is also somewhat related to office space is setup as many agile practices encourage more open space with pair programming and I have found that it prevents concentration. I found that private office pattern offered from Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development provides less interruption.
Meetings are toxic
This is another hallmark idea of 37Signals and the book contains a number of tips on making your productive such as fixed time, fewer people, clear agenda, beginning with a specific problem and ending with action items and making someone responsible for them.
Good enough is fine
37Signals is known for their simple design and fewer features. This is related other advice in the book such as “embrace the constraints”, “throw less at the problem”, “underdo your competitor”, “say no” and “be a curator”. When you have limited resources, you can become more creative. Also, you are better off building half a product, not a half assed product.
Make tiny decisions
The authors encourage to make tiny decisions as big decisions are hard to make and hard to change. This advice is related to other tips such as “decisions are progress”, which encourages you to always make progress and “quick wins”, which encourages you to build momentum by accomplishing small tasks.
Build an audience
The authors encourage to build audience that come back to you by writing blogs, tweets and speaking. This is also reated to “sell your by-products”, “emulate chefs”, “emulate drug dealers” and “out-teach your competitors”.
Though, I skipped many gems of advice on hiring, culture and marketing but I suggest you read the book to build long lasting and successful business.