Shipping: escape the gravity well

When I came back from vacation, we’d finished about 80% of the work we needed to do to the products themselves to ship new versions of FogBugz and Kiln. I found myself thinking, “Phew! Only 80% left to go.” “But but but that adds up to 160%,” you’re saying. Yup, it does, and that’s why this blog is called Ship or Die.

In my experience most projects really start falling apart after that first 80%. That’s the moment where you can finally really actually taste it; victory and a finished product are a tantalizingly within reach. But they’re really not. This is usually when cross-browser testing finally bubbles to the top of the list for the developer that’s been working his ass off on a core piece of interaction. This is when support and sales folks start asking questions about the new version; questions like, “is it going to have this one thing and that other thing that we really need to do our jobs, and if not can we squeeze that in?”

None of this is unexpected. You’ve built it into the schedule. You’ve planned for it. But that feeling of being oh-so-close to shipping is like gravity. It creates mental drag that can slow even the most well intentioned teams to a halt. And even though the team might not realize it, from this day forward, you’re deciding if you’re really shipping or just floundering.

Fog Creek is lucky enough to have some great people that help ensure we escape the gravity well. Ben Kamens is one of those people. He’s the guy that let’s you know when it’s time to go grab another coffee, or Red Bull or whatever, put your head down, and fire up the afterburners because it’s “time to do work.” Not your job. Real work. The stuff that means the difference between something that’s “good enough” and something that is going to make customers (who are busy trying to do their own work) thrilled to pay you. If you’ve got someone like this in your company, you probably already appreciate them. If not, learn to.

The best part is that this story has a happy ending. The team made it out of the gravity well with very minor injuries, and since then, things have been going smoothly. By tomorrow night, all of our On Demand customers will have the new versions, and install-it-on-your-own-server customers are getting them starting today. Real live paying customers are already talking about the products. In addition to the products, we also shipped completely revamped product websites for FogBugz and Kiln, and learned a whole bunch during the process. Stay tuned for a few more posts about some of the more interesting stuff that came up this time around.

Man, I love shipping.