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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

How to Ship Fast—the Right Way: 3 Lessons From Engineers Who've Been There

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Ship fast. Innovate fast. Find a solution fast.

In the startup world, speed rules. From bringing products to market in record time to reacting to the latest offering from the competition, being faster than the other guys is often critical. But for the engineers who actually build the products, features, and platforms that users rely on, working at breakneck speeds can create strain, stress, and—gasp—buggy releases.

Fortunately, there are a number of best practices that can help engineering teams avoid the speed bumps that hamper many startups. To learn more, we caught up with group product manager Jason Michael and front end engineer Angela Scerbo who live the fast life on Poppin's engineering team.

Experience with Expediting

Jason and Angela know a thing or two about moving quickly. When the furniture and office supply maker decided to pivot its website away from B2C and toward B2B, they knew time would be a major factor. In fact, they had just seven months to complete the entire overhaul, including re-platforming and redesigning the site's navigation experience.

“That project required a quick turnaround, because the site didn't make sense in the current configuration," Angela said. "We wanted to get it out as fast as possible to start seeing results."

They managed to get the new site shipped on time, thanks to teamwork, vision, and no shortage of man hours. And what they learned along the way can help your engineering team deliver under even the tightest deadlines.

Lesson 1: There's Always Time to Plan

When you're up against a demanding deadline, it may be tempting to pass on the planning phase and get right to work. In Jason's experience, however, rushing never pays off.

“Don't skip the planning portion," he stressed. "Even if you have a quick turnaround, spend the time to break the project down to understand what the critical features are and what the nice-to-haves are, so you can actually make those calls while you're progressing."

However, the planning phase doesn't need to be long or arduous. Your company priorities should be clear, he said, which means you won't have to define your values at every meeting.

"Planning is probably 15% of the project process," he said.

Lesson 2: Keep Everyone Informed and Aligned

Having a plan only works if you can keep everyone moving in the same direction. That's why Jason stressed that all your teams have to get on—and stay on—the same page.

“When a project comes in, we go through a quick scoping exercise to understand the extent of that project to break it down into different components," he said. "Because we are a small startup, all of our teams work really closely together. Our creative team, our e-commerce team, our marketing team, and our product team sit down to really understand what's needed for all of the pieces and to understand how we build them and get them out the door."

Lesson 3: Don't Try to Tackle Everything at Once

Speaking of breaking things down, it pays to cut large projects up into manageable chunks. According to Angela, that's a lesson the Poppin team learned the hard way.

“In the beginning, we certainly got ourselves into projects that went on too long. Or the development didn't match the fast pace that the business was driving ahead in," she noted. "From that experience, we learned that we have to break projects out into smaller tickets or pieces and discuss those small details. We aren't afraid to cut project components out during that initial scope."

Plus, breaking large projects down into smaller projects allows your team to set reasonable milestones that you can use to measure your progress along the way.

“To meet a deadline, sometimes you have to realize that you can't do it all," she added.

Angela and Jason shared these lessons so you don't have to learn the hard way. Whether you're part of a startup accustomed to velocity or at an established company struggling to catch up, their experiences can help your team innovate and accelerate without the pain of long meetings, blown deadlines, and angry executives. But, we can't promise you won't be putting in your share of late nights.