Feeding or Slaying the Dragon

I’ve heard the expression from executives, “Let’s slay this dragon once and for all.” What they mean is “We have had complaints from customers on [topic x]. Let’s do a project that makes all of those complaints go away. The dragon in this metaphor is the complaints that customers have.

I think this is the wrong way of thinking about it. You can not completely eliminate customer complaints. In fact, they are a healthy sign that people care and are actively using the product. If no one complains, that is a very bad sign.Also, when you do a project to reduce/eliminate complaints, the fix will not last forever. Software is constantly moving and evolving.

Side joke: Just because you don’t receive any complaints, doesn’t mean that all of the parachutes worked.

For example, when I designed Marketo, I made something called a Smart List. It was an incredibly flexible/powerful query UI. It allowed marketers to get information that was impossible without it. It is one of my finest creations. However, it made the engineers crazy. There were so many permutations and variations that keeping it bug free was hard. Additionally, depending on the size of your database, it could get slow.

In 2007, it could support 100k leads. Customers with 200k leads would complain of performance. So we did a project that I will call “Feeding the Dragon.” We improved performance so that 200k leads worked well. Each and every single year, we increased the performance, we fed the dragon. Today, hundreds of millions of leads can be used. Our dragon has grown to enormous proportions. We never slayed the dragon. Now customers want BILLIONS of leads. We have to keep feeding the dragon.

When you build something great, you give birth to a dragon. You can’t just expect it to be great forever. You have to feed it. You have to keep it clean and improve functionality consistently. You can try to build another dragon, but you have to be careful not to neglect your first one.

Sometimes, you just have to do the exact opposite of what everyone else thinks. Isn’t that odd?feedDragon

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