Blowing Things Up

I’m not sure if it’s the start of a new quarter, the full moon or my two seven year old boys that have me thinking about this, but we seem to be blowing a lot of things up lately. A few examples…

1. We blew up our product development process
2. We blew up lots of our software
3. We blew up our business planning process

When I say we “blew ________ up” (enter your own thing here) I mean we decided to take another course of action, look in the other direction, put other people in charge or just plain start over from scratch. Combustibles are exciting for lots of reasons (especially to second graders) but as a new type of business tool?

I’ve written in previous posts about our move to an Agile product development process. This required us to literally discharge our old way of taking input from customers, scoping features, planning releases and testing. Of course it also meant we had to ignite our underlying work flow and tools supporting product development. It all made me a tad nervous : { For more than a month I couldn’t tell you what would appear in our next release or when the release might be available for download. If you use Splunk, you know that we live and die by our product road map and release schedule. During that month our engineering, qa and product management teams went through a metamorphoses. They moved from being top down, planning driven to bottom up, innovation driven. We had reached the point where we couldn’t plan or prioritize features. The old process of having a team set out a plan and working towards a release wasn’t working anymore. So we blew it up. Now we have a process where by parallel scrum teams work on various facets of the product and they do the planning, constantly. It’s interesting how nobody, but yet everybody is in charge. The initial results are just in. Splunk 3.1 will soon be available for download in a mere eight weeks after Splunk 3.0 was posted. And Splunk 3.2 will be released in beta eight weeks from now. That may not sound like much but when you look at the amount of innovation in each release, the speed with which we’re moving enhancement requests from the field into features and the improved quality of each release it appears remarkable from where I stand.

Detonating software is always dangerous. Will it ever come back together again? Were we right about the surface area becoming too large or the architecture verging on too complex? Stay tuned. We’re in the process of blowing up a lot of our software. For example, we’ve realized our past approach to administration just doesn’t scale. Early on we built a nice UI for editing lots of the configuration properties of a Splunk server. But over time our ability to quickly add features outstripped the surface area of the UI. So we’ve been making configuration parameters available in editable configuration files. Now that is all fine and good but it’s not very discoverable and it’s completely out of context with the task at hand when you’re using the product. Definitely a candidate for explosives. Sometime in the near future you’ll see the administrative side of Splunk blasted for a much more scalable, discoverable and in context design we call “search based administration.” This is one small example of how we’re constantly blowing up our software.

Recently we’ve also been lighting the fuse on our business planning process. It used to be we’d have a few days at the beginning of our quarter when each department in the company (sales, marketing, engineering, customer support etc) would get together and have their own planning process. As we’ve doubled in size since the beginning of the year our old way of planning wasn’t working. Despite our completely open work environment (we have no cubicles or offices) communication across groups had slowed to the point where it was causing a lack of effective planning. You guessed it. We blasted it. Started over. Asked everyone what would make for a better planning process. This quarter we started with a full day of conversations. Everyone was invited to run a one hour discussion forum on any topic they wanted. The only rule was you had to publish it a week a head of time and provide a brief description of the topic on our internal wiki. We had 15 discussion forums run by people all over the company. That was it. Our Q4 planning. A bunch of conversations. We’ll see how far it gets us ; )

BTW, I heard someone at Splunk say in response to blowing things up,

“perhaps companies that don’t blow things up often enough end up blowing up themselves.”

Certainly food for thought. I’m keeping my dynamite close by.

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