Friendly “Fire and Motion”
One of my favourite essays on software development is Joel Spolsky’s article on Fire and Motion. In the piece he discusses how large software companies “pin down” their competitors by continually “firing volleys” of new technologies- OSs, databases or whatever – into the market. Competitors are thus compelled to spend time enabling their existing software to work with the new technology, which forces them to take time off from developing new products. With the competitors immobilised playing catch-up, the software behemoths are able to cover new ground unhindered, much as an infantry group advances under covering fire.
The most successful small companies, according to Joel, ignore the distractions of new technologies (as interesting as they may be) and, instead, focus on their customer’s needs.
The key point is: the new technology is used only if it makes business sense to do so.
The Fire and Motion analogy holds a lesson for those who manage technical teams in corporate environments – project managers, development managers et. al. It is all too easy for such folks to distract their teams by involving them in tasks that are, at best, peripheral to the primary goals of the group. An example might be a manager who reads about some cool new technology and then, with no regard for actual need, insists that a key team member evaluate it for future use. Such managerial behaviour is akin to “friendly fire”, where a manager “pins down” his own team by “firing volleys” of initiatives which do not add any value to the organization.
As in the case of friendly fire, the net result is an unfortunate one.