Is your startup trying to “make the world a better place”?
Technology entrepreneurs like to say that they’re “making the world a better place” but they usually have little idea about what will happen if their creations are adopted or how it relates to a better world.
This phenomenon was mocked beautifully in one of my favorite sequences from HBO’s Silicon Valley. In that episode, startup founders make claims like these:
- “We’re making the world a better place through paxos algorithms for consensus protocols.”
- “We’re making the world a better place though software defined data centers for cloud computing.”
- “We’re making the world a better place through canonical data models to communicate between end points.”
- “We’re making the world a better place through scalable, fault tolerant distributed databases with acid transactions.”
The sequence exposes the bullshit nature of many startup visions.
Even when you do have plausible narrative for achieving a big goal, your vision drifts from reality when your tech hits the real world. Your customers will use your product in unforeseen ways. The second- and third-order social impacts are impossible to predict. The creators of online social networks didn’t anticipate Trump.
To make an ambitious vision come true, you must perpetually adjust the path to your vision based on how the world is responding to your tech.
This is relatively easy for small startups. The same people with the vision are the ones doing the front-line work. If something unexpected happens, small startups can adjust plans with minimal communication. That said, many startups will quickly forget their original visions when they see a different path to survival (which can either be good or bad).
For larger companies, maintaining a narrative that connects their vision with reality is much harder. Without self-awareness, a company can start doings lots of things that have nothing to do with their intentions.
To illustrate this point, consider this diagram:
Imagine that each cube represents a unit of engineering work. In aggregate, the cubes are the things your company shipped in a given week.
At a big company, only a small number of people are able to understand the contents of each particular cube. Their trail of cryptic code commit notifications does little to explain the work.
To help “manage” all the work being done, companies install project management tools and practices. Each blue box in the diagram represents a set of engineering work captured in the form of issues, stories, bugs, or features.
Project management tools make the engineering work more intelligible to the people working on each project. But just because something is represented in project management software doesn’t mean it maps to a company goal. Project management software, alone, helps you be a better feature factory, but it doesn’t keep you in sync with your vision.
I’m building Double-Loop to help companies achieve, as the top part of the diagram says, complete alignment across strategy, project management, and engineering.
My vision with Double-Loop is to capture every unit of engineering work that your company produces through integrations with tools like GitHub. Each unit of engineering is like a transaction your company makes with the world. And, like transactions in the financial sense, they should be accounted for and reconciled with your company goals. You should know how much you’re “spending” on each goal and the return on investment.
With Double-Loop, as new engineering work is deployed, you’re prompted to map it to your company goals and capture the results achieved after launch. When something doesn’t reconcile easily, it means either your goals need to shift or the work needs to cease.
Today, most companies don’t know how much of their output maps or doesn’t map to their goals. When a company’s work is invisible to the folks steering the ship, it means they’ve created a monster with potential to wreak havoc on the world around them.