"Do it right the first time" is total BS. If you want to create a great product, you need to eliminate perfection from your thinking and embrace making mistakes. The key is to learn from mistakes and quickly iterate and improve your design.
I don’t think any other six words in the English language have done more damage to product developers than “Do it right the first time” (otherwise known as DRIFT). Generations of engineers have been forced to endure endless hours of quality training where DRIFT was drummed into their brains. If we “do it right the first time,” the theory goes, we would be able to cut development cost, reduce development time and dramatically improve quality.
Executives love it. It sounds so easy and attractive. But it’s total BS. Here’s why.
I want you to think as hard as you can and answer this question: “What significant task have I ever ‘done right the first time’?”
Time’s up, and I’m going to bet that you came up with absolutely nothing. I mean, when you were born you probably needed help figuring out how to breathe! The truth is, to get just about anything “right” requires that you try, fail, learn and repeat the cycle until you get it.
The expected benefit of DRIFT is the promise of faster and error-free product development. In my experience, it has quite the opposite effect. Product development becomes slower, more costly, and more frustrating for everyone involved. How can that be, you ask? The fundamental reason is that the implicit message in DRIFT and its various brothers and sisters like “measure twice, cut once” is “don’t make a mistake.” It is not “design a great product your customers will love that also makes your company a lot of money.” Although someone may add it as an Appendix to the Product Requirements Document under “misc.”
“Don’t make a mistake” leads to a variety of behaviors that can be counterproductive, including overspecification (aka “paralysis by analysis”), overplanning, and micromanagement. Proper specification and planning with the right amount of oversight is critical to success. However, when too much is applied too early in a project, the only result will be frustration and ultimately failure. If you’ve ever worked on a development team that’s focused on not messing up, you understand what the impact of endless planning, preparation, and review can be.
Great products rarely result from teams driven by a fear of failure. Great products are much more likely to emerge from a culture that listens to project stakeholders, hones skills with practice and training, desires to try the untried, keeps trying when things go wrong, and embraces serendipity when it drops by. Developing a great product requires balancing the right amount and type of effort at the right time. But mostly it’s about taking the risk to try, learning from our failures (and successes!), and repeating this cycle as quickly as possible as many times as necessary.
Here are tactics you can use to prevent aimless “DRIFTing”:
Finally, don’t confuse DRIFT with “Do it right.” Never forget that your goal is to design a great product for your stakeholders. You’ll never get there if all you do is focus on not making product development mistakes. That kind of DRIFTing approach will turn your project into a wreck. Instead, make a lot of mistakes as early as possible and apply what you learn to your design with lightning speed.
You’ll be on your way to creating the next great product.
“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work.”
– Thomas Edison (rumored to have developed a few successful products)