Why fast doesn’t equal smart when it comes to building digital products

Most working professionals know the fragility of best-practise guidelines in testing times. When a shouty boss, a looming deadline or a budget crisis comes along, these guidelines are often cast aside. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In those scenario, short-term thinking takes over. Getting the job off the ‘to do’ list trumps any long-term considerations or plans you might have agreed.

Looking at that bigger picture, it’s clear that traditional approaches which prioritise deadlines and budgets over long-term ROI have to be challenged, because they can add crippling costs to both individual projects and businesses.

Here at Code, our mantra is ‘don’t build faster, build smarter’. It’s is part of our Product Thinking-focused way of working, which demands a focus on outcomes, not deliverables.

So this may actually mean choosing a more difficult way to build initially – but following a course which will ultimately increase the return each product brings to the business in the long term.

What about in the wider digital world, though?

We wanted to dig a little deeper into finding out how other organisations were balancing long- and short-term considerations. So we teamed up with E-Consultancy to put together some research which looked into this area as well as wider aspects Product Thinking.

For a balanced view, just over half our survey respondents worked for client-side organisations – with 44% working for agencies, vendors or consultancies. We also compared the experiences of top-performing businesses and more mainstream companies.

We agree on the best way to do things…

The current consensus agrees with Product Thinking principles – so businesses should be putting the customer at the centre of everything they do i.e. the outcome, not the deliverable.

And they should be driven by data rather than following gut instinct.

Our respondents agreed, with:

  • 92% saying businesses which focus on the long term are more likely to be successful.
  • 94% saying we should strive to place a value to the work we do before we invest in it.
  • And 88% specifically echoing word-for-word that digital projects should focus on outcomes rather than a list of deliverables.

So why is it that so many businesses still follow an ad hoc project-based approach for their digital development?

And why were 81% of the mainstream companies we talked to unsatisfied with their ability to deliver on digital projects on time and within budget?

The perils of ‘business as usual’

The reasons for deliverables being prioritised over outcomes were quite familiar to us:

  • A failure to set a clear vision everyone can believe in and agree with
  • Poor management of stakeholder expectations
  • A poorly-defined scope
  • The initial strategy or vision was unclear

These factors led to ‘business as usual’. Short-term thinking took over. Where meeting deadlines became the top priority and speed was valued over quality. llenged, because they can add crippling costs to both individual projects and businesses.

When it comes to speed, cost and quality, you can only choose two of the three

You might have seen this before…

You-Only-Get-Two-Good-Fast-Cheap

…but it’s true.

And in digital it’s all about balancing scope, budget and schedule.

If these are fixed, the only variable is quality.

So any pressure to increase the scope of the project, cut its budget or reduce the timescale will inevitably mean a loss of quality. It has to.

And if those quality levels haven’t been closely defined or measured, their decline can easily go unnoticed until final testing or – worse still – after the project goes live.

It does prove building faster or ‘cheaper’ is self-defeating.

The final word is, we must build more effectively.

Here’s one deliverable we’re happy for you to focus on

Of course, we shouldn’t completely shun the appeal of a short-term gain.

So here’s one which won’t come back to negatively affect your business in the long run.

We’d be happy to deliver a copy of the full ‘Driving digital effectiveness with Product Thinking’ research report which we’ve used as the basis for this article, straight to your inbox. Submit your details and we’ll get a copy to you.


Digital effectiveness, pt 3: Do it together