Fast Forward Deployment and Your Online Project


The social media revolution has forced traditional journalism to rethink its most basic premise: a well researched, well developed and thoroughly checked news story. We don’t want to wait for weeks or even days for a news story. We want it within hours of it breaking, minutes would be best.  Journalists have even coined a new name for it: fast forward journalism. It’s a fast, unstructured post, and with just the facts that are available at the moment, giving its audience enough information to get them up to speed. I believe online development needs its own fast forward approach.

Fast Forward web develepmont

Not long ago I sat in a room filled with engineers working on a spec document for an online tool. We worked for a solid week. The engineers were trying to account for every potential user scenario and exception. I was fighting for simplicity and quick deployment. I had not given my process a name yet, but I’m calling fast forward development.

The reason start ups are more likely to create tools we love to use is because they often start with a simple idea and deploy it quickly, cost effectively and then allow users input to change and grow the product. Facebook is a great example of something that started small and focused (Harvard students only at first) then grew to other schools and now has over 500 million members.

Too often we take our analog reasoning into a digital project and kill it before it even has a chance to live.

Whether you’re developing a new website, an online ministry tool, or an e-commerce solution, consider the following:

What’s the absolutely minimum number of features this project  should have? The wisdom here is to create a tool that is useful but it has no more than it needs to have for a successful launch. If you don’t give your users enough, it will fail. They will not check back to see if you have finished the site. If you try to give them too much you run the risk of scope creep, timeline delays, costs overruns–and all of it before your target audience has a chance to tell you that your most resource-intensive feature was not worth the extra time and money.

How fast can we launch? Currently my team at The A Group is working on a few large and quite complex projects. But even on these projects we timeline weeks of development as opposed to months.

Digital platforms are alive and they can, and should, change often. The sooner we realize that there is no perfection when it comes to the digital domain, the sooner we’ll become effective software developers. Technology, attitudes and opportunities chance fast. In order to be relevant and even survive, so should your program.

What do you think of the “fast forward development” approach?

  • Todd Smith

    This is spot on, Maurilio. I was involved in a web project that took almost a year to complete and by the time the site went live, it was already dated. The organization had moved past the needs we had when we started the project.

    • I've been there before. Trust me, it's not fun for anyone involved.

  • Sally Epps

    This is very timely. We're about to embark on a large website project. I'm forwarding this to my boss.

  • Bert

    Great post. I am challenged to put this concept into practice. I think few leaders are really aware of the rate things change in todays world. I recently saw a new website about to go online. I did not say it but it looked old.

  • Excellent post. Thank you for challenging the traditional thinking of extended project timelines.

    I've been part of a few projects both as a grad student and working professional where it would've been better to fast forward the output instead of trying to mitigate risk by considering every possible problem and wasting time.

  • Great post Maurilio. I believe the opposite of Fast Forward Deployment is what anchors churches to programs. Main line ministries often seem to be unwilling to push forward without determining first how many people will be upset by changes. This fear stops deployment and hinders action on the mission.

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  • Good word. I think this applies far beyond just online projects. Fast and simple is like the new currency of success. Simple but not neccisarily simplistic. Those who are quick to launch and drill down the features to increase consumer useability will win. I think of Apple when I think of this. Nothing of theirs is simplistic but they make using most things simple. They are usually first to market with their new technologies as well.

  • PaulSteinbrueck

    Maurilio, I think you're absolutely right. Plus if you launch with minimum functionality, you'll immediately begin to get feedback from your users as to what they'd like to see added or improved. Not that you should add everything users as for, but at least your getting their input as opposed to developing everything based on your team's speculation as to what users will want.

  • Robert Wright

    Maurilio — there is great wisdom in this post. You are absolutely right. I've seen "feature creep" destroy an otherwise great application. And lofty project goals and long development schedules can increase the likelihood of missed deadlines and put you behind the technology curve right out of the gate.

    This is especially true when applied to web development. In my experience, many clients of web projects fall into one of two camps:

    The first group comes to the table knowing conceptually that they have a need for an online tool, but they haven't ever fleshed it out into elemental components or they simply struggle to think in those terms.

    The second group comes to the table with a "master plan". They think their site should contain the full laundry list of features.

    Neither group can identify one or two key "must have" features.

    Both groups require some consultation to help define and focus their specific needs. This starts with a thorough exploration of their business and its strengths and weaknesses followed by an education in how technology can exploit their strengths and diminish their weaknesses.

    Thank you for the good reminder.

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