New products, tools, cities, buildings, roads, works of art, books… They used to be designed and developed only once, according to a grand master plan. And meant to stay. Today, we’re witnessing a transition to a different approach: To iterative development.
Software may perhaps be the clearest example. Until recently, consumers would from time to time be surprised with grand product innovations. For instance, the release of Windows 95 -combined with the Microsoft Office software- completely and instantly changed the way office people work. It had taken a couple of years of secret development before this software was ready and shipped. After being shipped, every consumer would have their own private version installed on her computer and only replace that after yet another couple of years. The same was true for most other software packages –and for games too-.
Education used to follow the same paradigm. We used to think about our education in terms of preparing for a career. We would go from Kindergarten, to Primary School, to Secondary School and perhaps College. Then we would be ready to start working and delivering. At 50 many people would cease to be as productive and up-to-date as before, yet that wouldn’t be a problem. The education and knowledge was still considered to be good enough to last another 15 years.
Urban planning is another example. City managers in many parts of the world liked to do grand designs for their cities. Great examples include Brasilia, the capital of Brazil designed and originally built in the middle of the country in the shape of an airplane, with dedicated areas for all functions: areas for the Ministries, for schools, embassies, shops: The president’s palace and parliament are located in the cockpit, admin areas are in the body, and a limited amount of about 100,000 residents were planned to live in the two wings.
Today, the apps we get for our smart phones and computers are not that ready when we first buy them. Developers may have a lot of ideas on what the application should be able to do and how it should behave and look and feel, yet first versions are brought to the customer long before all that’s ready. Developers now ship when they have a first version ready. Depending on the feedback we get, we adjust and improve the app to what users need and like.
Today we understand that training and education is permanent. We learn at school before we start working, yet while at work we continue taking classes and training courses on different skills, trades and competencies –until long after we’re retired-. Because we need to, but also, because it’s much more fun. Today, Brasilia’s airplane is hardly recognizable, surrounded as it is by spontaneous settlements housing over 2 million habitants. Overall, the major cities in the world showed that blueprint planning doesn’t work. It’s much better to allow for autonomous development and to see what happens. Urban plans don’t need to be made for 10 years anymore. They can be kept shorter, say a year or two. Or abolished all the way.
So, the future is iterative. We start with a first version and develop new versions (or releases) over a considerable period of time. New versions are always based on direct feedback we received. What do we really need? What can be left out? Projects are no longer defined as endeavors with a clear beginning and end and very clear boundaries. Projects have become containers for many different releases -each one with different release dates (deadlines), themes to be concluded, and each with their own budgets. In Waypoint we allow you to organize projects just like that.