Steve Coppin-Smith
Jul 25, 2016
4 mins reading time

Finishing Fast

We’ve been discussing speed a lot internally both in relation to our systems and our delivery. We want to waste no time in delivering new features and improvements to our customers to maintain our competitive advantage. A recent example, albeit nothing to do with business or technology, reminded me that speed is not the only element in finishing fast.

I’m not much of a runner, but I’ve been bringing my time down consistently over the last month. Imagine my delight when the sun was out, the air was clear and I was feeling fit. Conditions were perfect for a new personal best.

Speed, speed, speed

Feeling strong, I opened up my stride and went for it. The first report back from my run tracker was in after the first kilometre. 4:08, a good 25 seconds quicker than my first kilometre time on my best outing on this route. All signs pointed to this being a quick time.

Next marker, 4:53. Quite a drop off and I’m starting to feel why. I’d started to pick up some debt from a speedy start. Legs were tired, breathing wasn’t regulated yet and the stitch developing in my side was the veritable bug in my system.

Digging deep seemed like the best option. A second wind would be my saving grace and these problems would go away. Looking at the numbers, I’d dug myself out of the hole with a 4:43. Stopped the rot. Back on track. Right?

Wrong. The digging deep only added more debt and bugs and the 5:21 it was followed up with proved it. I’d gone from hoping to get a sub 24 minute time to trying to rescue a sub 25 (my rule is if I don’t get sub 25, I need to run 10k, so the stakes were high). I’d adjusted the scope.

The final kilometre hurt, in body and soul. 5:10 was enough to bring it home before my revised deadline, but at what cost. I certainly didn’t feel like running the next day, or that week. If I could have summoned the energy and will to go again the next day it may well have been slower, if not a prompt to stop running altogether.

The costs of speed

References to scope, bugs and debt allude to the fact this isn’t wholly a post about running. We’ve all had our fair share of projects that follow this pattern. It’s easy to assume that to get somewhere fast you need to move with speed. To an extent this is true, but there are other variables and costs.

A tech project that focuses solely on speed is destined to fail, one way or another. Technical debt, bugs, fatigue and stress will build until the finish line where typically you’ll face an apology to the stakeholders or an apology to the team. Make your focus pace.

Now, don’t get me wrong, speed is an important part of pace, but with the added consideration that there is a cost to speed. These considerations need to be mitigated by measuring the costs and adjusting speed to counter debt and find the right pace.

Finish fast by managing your pace

Agile working methodologies, particularly Scrum, are great at measuring pace. Learn from previous projects to set your starting pace and regularly monitor your velocity and levels of technical debt. From that point, you can test increasing your speed without incurring an equivalent cost.

(Note also that more people doesn’t equate to speed. It’s akin to adding another pair of legs to a runner and asking them to figure out how to use them halfway through a race.)

If you got this far, let me reward you with one more analogy and consider the speed of your competitors, which is of course a main driver in business:

In distance races you can have a field full of elite record holders with super fast times, yet they come in minutes after the world record and even their own personal bests. Why? They are capable of running faster, no? Their focus is on finishing faster than their competitors, not the fastest possible.

Sure, there are times when you want to head the pack to stretch your competitors a little and inform someone else’s strategy, like a company first to market. However doing this represents a risk to your own race, so it needs to be done with care and only if you’re in a position to manage it.

Next time you’re setting your speed, think of the runner in the pack, and consider what pace is going to get you to the finish line fast, fit and ready to go again.

Tags Speed, Pace, Fast, Finishing, Projects