How to Ship Fast

The few startups who survive often have one thing in common:

They ship incredibly fast

Staying ahead in the competitive market is the key to success.

Startups are known for their rapid growth, and product shipping speed is a key indicator.

Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, suggests frequently releasing new features can predict startup success. Regular updates show a company's flexibility and commitment to improving its product.

In my view, there are a set of principles that are key to ship software fast while maintaining high quality. Let’s dive straight in!

1. Make Prioritization a Priority

The most important path to shipping fast is prioritization.

Prioritizing product features starts with identifying the Minimum Viable Feature (MVF) — the smallest set of functions that deliver value while still solving the core problems for users. The smaller set that is viable to solve the user needs – the less you need to develop, the faster you can ship.

Tasks should be immediately identifiable and organized into "Do now" and "Do next" categories. If the process of prioritization becomes cumbersome, it reflects a deeper issue of not being aligned closely enough with customer feedback, which can stall momentum and create inefficiencies in the workflow.

At Atlas, to simplify the prioritization process, we adopt a practical approach: each week, we clearly display all the most important tasks on our office wall, categorized according to an effort and value matrix.

Everyone know exactly what the priorities are. At all times.

2. Focus by Saying "No"

Effectiveness is a product of efficiency and time spent on the task. Focus is key to increase the efficiency. It’s all about having to think about as few things at a time to increase the efficiency on the current task.

You have to cut out distractions.

“The Power of 3” is a well-known time management technique that can increase focus and efficiency.

By limiting the number of tasks or goals to three, you are forced to prioritize the most important ones.

Why 3?

Three tasks are generally manageable within a given time frame, reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed. Also, it’s a great productivity technique to always knowing what’s coming next. It forces you to speed up your current task.

As you complete each set of three tasks, you can reassess and choose the next three priorities.

3. Build Momentum

Momentum is a special spark in startup environments.

It acts as the lifeblood of a team, where consistent product shipments uplift spirits, and delays can cause significant morale drops.

The key to rapid delivery is maintaining momentum consistently; once lost, the psychological and operational setback can be substantial, often resulting in a blurred vision and decreased team energy which can be challenging to recover.

4. Doers Plan

In software development, those who are involved in the doing should be involved in the planning. And vice versa.

When planners are also contributors, they bring a level of insight and credibility that can effectively streamline the execution process, maintaining momentum.

At Atlas, this philosophy is embedded in how we operate, where everyone participates in planning tasks. This ensures all team members are aligned with the product vision. By engaging everyone in the planning process, we foster a sense of ownership and accountability, which ensures that our project goals are met with our collective vision.

5. Everyone is a Designer

Maintaining a tight grip on the design process is crucial to prevent going down the wrong path.

To facilitate a collaborative and open design environment, Atlas utilize a shared Figma file that is accessible to all team members. This allows anyone on the team – developers, business devs and designers – to contribute in design concepts and improvements.

No-one is a bad enough designer to not make sketches of their thoughts.

At Atlas, these contributions are then openly discussed in dedicated Slack channels. Following these discussions, our skilled designers take the lead in refining these ideas, ensuring that every design element is thoughtfully considered and aligns with our overall project goals.

6. 80% is Great

The pursuit of perfection in decision-making can be an impediment to progress.

In a fast-paced startup, it's beneficial to make decisions quickly and accept that not all of them will be perfect.

Aiming for a decision accuracy of about 80% allows for quick progression and learning cycles from the feedback obtained. This approach reduces downtime, increases adaptability, and fosters a culture of dynamic decision-making where learning from mistakes is valued over indecision.

7. No Trade-off Between Quality and Speed

It is a common misconception that speed undermines quality.

This is not necessarily true as demonstrated by top-tier engineers who consistently deliver both. The key lies in maintaining deep focus and care in execution, which enables rapid delivery without compromising the quality of the output.

It’s a state of mind.

Never deliver a bad user experience.

It’s more about refining the scope and focusing on delivering smaller, more manageable features quickly and efficiently.

8. Capture Inspiration

Moments of inspiration are rare and immensely valuable.

They have the potential to accelerate the development process. When such moments arise, it is crucial to seize them and allow the team to explore these new ideas.

Wrap up

These principles are not merely theoretical but are grounded in practical experiences and successes. They are designed to foster an environment that prioritizes efficiency, focus, and alignment with customer needs, all while accelerating the pace of software development.