Can software engineering be likened to energy creation and waste management?

Creating energy is a difficult thing, it is very hard to get more out than you put in and without creating a heap of waste that you have to take care of somehow and that potentially could drown you. Lately I have been likening software engineering to this when I want to illustrate the problems for non-techies and get a point across.

Developing software is not easy and if you want to get more value out than you put in it can be a real tough nut to crack. Personally I have never had much interest in doing consultancy work because then you are simply selling hours and you have no way of getting more value out than you put in.

Yes, investing in creating products where the value creation is more than the hours put in is risky but it is a risk that I would gladly take any given day. I would always go for trying to create fusion power as opposed to burning coal. Life is about taking risks so don’t leave this one without having lived it.

When you start a new venture it is important to get to an MVP as quickly as possible so that you can start getting feedback. During this period it is acceptable to take a bunch of shortcuts when developing which will result in some technical debt. I liken this to producing some dirty energy where you will have to deal with the waste products somehow.

The rationale is that if the MVP is a success and you find product market fit it is worth investing more in the development and also start cleaning up some of that waste. As you are able to apply more and more resources you will be able to produce cleaner and cleaner “energy” with less and less waste.

You have to watch out for scope creep with regards to the MVP though. I bet that your first hypothesis of your MVP will not be correct. That is natural, just make sure that it does not drag out too much. Each change that you have to make while creating dirty energy from your development efforts builds up that pile of waste. You have to get around to doing some cleaning before it is too late.

Don’t forget about the waste

Even if you manage to get the MVP right it can be easy for everyone to get caught up in the excitement and continue to implement new and cool features. This is another serious trap! The only remedy that I know of is to make sure everyone is aligned around this concept from the start. There is certainly a speed limit that should apply to how fast an organization is moving in relationship to its available resources.

The creative process always takes time and you need to have time for designing, trying things out and then re-designing. Startups are almost always cash strapped and must be very careful about where time is invested. Don’t find yourself in a hot market with a hot product and realize that you need to stop everything for a few years and take care of waste! Trust me, I have been there! 🥶

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