Rally Software: The product of a “ship faster” mentality

By Richard Nieva , written on January 25, 2013

From The News Desk

Is faster always better? In technology and on the Internet, it would seem the answer is yes. We’re in an era of beta everything. Any big launch is likely to come with that tag. At Facebook headquarters, there’s a poster in one of the conference rooms that reads, “Done is better than perfect.” And lo and behold, Facebook graph search was deemed “very early beta.” Which essentially means, don’t wait. Get it out faster.

A slightly tangential point: Even outside of the software realm, digital is built for speed. It’s been long held that the blogosphere is responsible for the minute-by-minute news cycle, but last week the “get it out faster” mentality of digital media got the best of the old guards. Deadspin ratcheted up a win for the blogosphere when it broke the news of Manti Te’o and his imaginary girlfriend because ESPN was dragging its feet. There are other deeper journalistic issues at play here, but it also goes to show that speed is engrained into every facet of the digital landscape.

And it goes double for software. Today, Rally Software introduced an iPad version of its AgileZen software, a collaboration tool for software developers. And the idea is the same: Get it out faster. Considered insane just five years ago, this has become the standard for how companies are built.

With the new software, users see a dashboard of digital sticky notes that they can change and revise in real time to keep them on task as they are bringing a piece of software to market. It’s suited specifically to developers because it has integrations with seo services like GitHub and Zendesk, and allows developers to manage feedback tickets from their users. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for a developer to create numerous iterations of a piece of software, as quickly as possible. “With software, you deliver small, incremental changes continuously,” says Todd Olson, Rally’s VP of products. “Instead of building it all upfront, you build fast.”

Collaboration software is nothing new, nor is the resurgence of it. Asana helps teams work together, and so does Hackpad. Atlassian, probably AgileZen’s closest competitor, is very popular among the developer set. The difference between the two services, Olson says, is that Atlassian focuses on giving engineers tools, while AgileZen’s main concern is speeding up the process.

That distinction underscores the environment for developers: change only what needs to be changed, then ship.

It’s nice that developers have these tools. Anything that makes life easier for a slaving engineer will always get my support. But in a broader sense, is focusing on incremental changes really the way to go? Far be it from me to thrust this all on the back of Rally Software – it is just making a product that caters to the culture and sentiment that’s already there. But when the main focus is to ship quickly, you get a zillion software updates whose descriptions say “minor bug fixes” and an app store icon with a red notification tag that never goes away.

Allowing for an easy incremental fix is a good thing, especially if a blatant bug needs immediate attention. But it’s worrisome that focusing on quick iterations could contribute to the cliché of making something that’s “evolutionary and not revolutionary.” While it’s true that the little things do add up, they can easily pile up to equal something merely works, and is not pushing the envelope.

Yes, having something work properly is priority number one, especially with something as fickle as software. But it’s almost akin to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: you need to get the basics like breathing, food and water down first. But when you can stop and think about the more complicated problems, that’s when you strive.