Product development guiding principle: Use quality to generate speed

Jason Yip
2 min readNov 24, 2022

Guiding principle in effective product development culture.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland via Stratechery

Approach 1: “be very careful”, “do it right the first time”, “people need to love the first version” Approach 2: “shorten the learning loop”, “make sure failure doesn’t kill us” Approach 2 produces better quality
Speed in learning generates quality

The mistake is believing that being more careful, taking longer to produce things, is what creates quality. This is sub-optimal because certain kinds of knowledge can only be acquired by releasing and making contact with the problem you’re trying to solve.

Speed creates more opportunities for learning; learning generates quality.

This isn’t mindless speed (aka “move fast and break things”) but rather shortening learning loops.

Learning faster is not about rushing; learning faster is about making things safer and smoother.

Smooth from the perspective of the “baton” (the work) is not equivalent to smooth from the perspective of the “runner” (the worker). Smooth from the perspective of the “baton” has more impact on organisational learning speed.

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Jason Yip

Senior Manager Product Engineering at Grainger. Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean guy. Ex-Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl