Software Can Be Temporary

Photograph of a group of cheerleaders on a beach tossing one cheerleader high in the air.

What it feels like to let software go.

The productivity influencer Shu Omi put out a great video this past week explaining Aboard to his audience on YouTube. Coming to Aboard with fresh eyes, he does a better job explaining it than we do—and with some solid criticism that we’re glad to hear:

Shu points out how light Aboard can feel, which is great. One of the big goals with building Aboard was to keep it light and low-drama. There’s tons of software out there that aims for lock-in by making itself critical—think of Salesforce, in which managing leads funnels directly to revenue. Can you risk getting rid of Salesforce? In this economy?

Would we hate it if someone emailed and said, “I’m exhausted by my CRM and I’d love to customize Aboard”? No, we would love it! We’re already talking about projects like that with various organizations. We plan to be here for the long term, helping people with projects that take years. But we also want to be good at making software, well, disposable.

I was a programmer for many years, and the superpower of programming isn’t that you can build majestic and resilient systems. It’s that you can hack crap together really fast and see what breaks, then hack some new crap together that breaks less. Eventually the hacky crap gets shiny enough that you can put it in a package and tell people it’s great.

Where I’ve really been enjoying Aboard lately is, as per last week’s newsletter, it helps me learn new things, but second, in that it helps me make ridiculously small, disposable workflows. When we think about workflow we tend to think about “publishing a magazine” or “running a loading dock” or “maintaining a website.” We rarely think small—which is why so many companies’ big process-development projects fail after 18 months. Just last week I talked to someone on their third e-commerce platform migration in three years. That’s too many.

I would argue from experience that thinking really small is usually the best way to get started. Aboard lets you think incredibly small. One thing I’ve been promising myself to do recently is learn to make shumai. We’re a dumpling family and we usually do dumpling projects a few times a year. Dumplings are a nice way to hang. But I rarely lead the dumpling process and mostly I just wrap meat lumps. I’d like to be better! 

So I typed: 

“a board to learn to prepare shumai, with steps as steps and skills as tags.”

A board for Shumai Preparation

That’s a small life idea. But you can have small work ideas too:

“a board to help me remember to shout out employees every week”

An Employee Shoutouts board

“interview one customer per week and ask about how they’re using the product”

A Customer Interview Tracker board

“manage relationships with investors”

An Investor Relationship Manager board

Spinning up software, playing with it, and tweaking with it makes me happy. Because the moment I have an idea for something I want to achieve, I’m already underway—the rest is details. And now that I have my investor-relations board, the likelihood that I will send the emails on time without a panic attack is much, much increased. I’m still going to procrastinate, but I’ll do it systematically.

Little processes add up. When I used to sell services to clients and I’d close the deal, I would often avoid getting the contracts sent and reviewed by legal. I’d feel overwhelmed and just avoid it. So I made a 100-bullet-point checklist to help me get the contracts done. Things like “Write down the name of the client and their address” or “Open the ‘contract_template_2020.docx’ document and turn on track changes.” And because I had that checklist I would no longer feel confused and overwhelmed—the worst I’d feel was kind of bored. And as a result, we got paid on time, and people were less annoyed with me.

Anyway! You get my point here.

 Just for kicks, I tried:

“​​​​teach a cat a trick”

A Cat Trick board

At which point I realized that I would rather manage the investors.