Move Fast And Break Things is Great – Until It Isn’t

So much of the tech sphere, and a lot of businesses in general, have fallen in love with the mantra “Move fast and break things” that was a motto at Facebook in its early years.

On its surface, it’s a great idea – take chances, do stuff, see what works, and don’t be afraid to stop doing the things that don’t. Even past the surface level, it’s a decent strategy. The problem is that, like so many other great ideas, people parrot it without realizing why they’re doing it.

There comes a point in the development of your product that “Move fast and break things” not only stops being a benefit, but actually becomes a problem – and that point is when you have found a market fit and have actual (usually paying) users relying on your product to get things done.

It’s the reason that, even though we have API versioning, the general advice is that changes to an API should be additive instead of breaking existing functionality. Once people rely on your product, if you break the way it works for them, there’s a very real chance that they’ll stop using your product and go somewhere else.

Moving fast and breaking things is great for when you’re trying out ideas, trying to find a market fit, or doing prototypes. It stops being a great idea when it threatens your viability as a product or business. You need to figure out what your risk appetite is and what the potential rewards are of breaking things.

That’s the part that a lot of the people who just repeat mottos don’t understand. That particular motto is there to get people to take risks when playing it safe is the real risk. It’s not that you should completely reboot your product every six months.

Of course, there’s a dark side to stability and backwards compatibility too – just look at some of the baggage Java or Windows have to allow for backwards compatibility. (There’s actually a hilarious reason that Windows went from Windows 8 to Windows 10 – supposedly a lot of legacy software made after windows 95-98 era did a check to make sure the version didn’t contain the string “Windows 9” because it wouldn’t work on older operating systems).

Stop following mottos without questioning why they’re being used. Your path isn’t the same as the person who created the motto, but there is every chance that you can learn something from them. Just understand why you’re doing it.


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