Maybe Gradual Change Is Dumb

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I caught an episode of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares tonight on the wisdom-box. Being the 37Signals Fanboy that I am, I was on the lookout for what Gordon could teach me about building software.

Right away I noticed the staff’s resistance to Gordon’s redesigned menu. He threw out the old seafood roster and changed everything over to hardcore steakhouse in a couple of days.

I realized that I tend to have a similar view of drastic changes in software:

  • Isn’t that risky, doing all of that at once? Why don’t we just do a small part first to see how it goes, hmm?
  • We really don’t need another big bang project. They’re hard to do, and they’re always late.
  • Let’s just evolve existing features, instead of always blowing them away and starting from scratch
These are reasonable, pragmatic positions to take in a world filled with scope creep and feature bloat. The only problem is that this kind of thinking paves the road to stagnation. They’re the attitudes of a crappy restaurant staff facing drastic but badly needed changes.

Gordon ALWAYS nukes the menu and starts over. If things are bad, or if you really want powerful change, incremental improvements won’t cut it. At some point, you’re going to need a big bang. It will probably hurt.

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