Most companies want innovation and many of these same companies utilise an incremental software delivery model to achieve it. These models can be big on short-term delivery but weak on long-term vision. Delivering features to production weekly, yet failing to realise the product vision. These models ensure we build things right, but they can deter us from building the right thing.
In his book Zero to One Peter Thiel starts by discussing his favourite interview question… What important truth do very few people agree with you on?
Thiel goes on to discuss the purpose of his contrarian question. By asking it, Thiel uncovers the capacity of the individual for innovative thinking. To make change we need to see something about the future that others might not. Secrets Thiel calls them. Things about the world that we can uncover. But, to uncover the secrets, you have to:
Believe in them (or a system of people that does)
Have the courage to discuss them (or a system that does)
Be able to realise them (or a system that does)
Incremental models are often very prescriptive on the short term operations. How to hold your meetings, what roles to have on a team or how long to work each increment. But often at the bottom of the guide is a note on vision. The vision section is usually rather bare. But it’s often the most complicated to realise.
Incremental models ensure that we end up with a product of some kind. This brings down the risk that we deliver something completely useless, or even not at all. But incremental delivery also can under-deliver on vision. When you’re taking small steps forward it can be hard to keep pushing for a more grandiose visionary goal. Being able to identify incremental steps to a big vision is a herculean task.
Most technology companies are brimming with genius. Smart individuals with degree’s and years of experience. But, do we have people that believe in secrets? Do they have an environment to talk about their visions? And if they do, then does our delivery model allow us to test these ideas? And if not, what can we do about it?