Here is the tale of Blogs vs Novels vs Breaking Bad vs Lost.
As much as I love JJ Abrams (first Star Trek reboot anyone? And @JJ please don’t mess up Star Wars), I recall he once said that he could keep Lost going for years. As a series that thrived on mystery and the slow reveal of secrets, this was maddening. I think what he really meant was that he could keep making things up for ages. And he did. Until it got cancelled.
On the other hand, I recall Vince Gilligan (who is also much loved around these parts) saying that the main themes and arcs of Breaking Bad were outlined very early on. That is not to say that he stuck rigidly to his plans, but he did have a vision of sorts that guided the writing throughout.
Two examples. Firstly, the plan was to kill Jessie off early on but the writers changed their minds after seeing what Aaron Paul did with the part. Secondly, the writers had to adapt to unforeseen events when the real life owner of Jessie’s house sold up and they found themselves temporarily without a key location.
Whilst working on a recent assignment, our team had the luxury of working on a brand new product – not a single line of code had been written. We stuck to guidelines such as “you are never gonna need it” to prevent over-thinking, and “release early and often” to get early feedback.
After a few iterations and several releases later, we welcomed some new joiners into the team and set about the task of bringing them up to speed.
Then it dawned on us. We had created a monster. And even worse, we could not blame any predecessors because the handiwork was all ours. Over and over again we explained some aspect of design that would seem daft to any reasonable person. It seemed daft to us too. No sane team, given the same scope would have implemented it in the same way we had – if they had known the full scope at the beginning that is.
And yet if you had looked at any given iteration in isolation, we could explain very logically and clearly why we made the decisions we made.
A colleague’s quote neatly summarises where I think we went wrong: “A set of great blogs doesn’t necessarily make a great novel”. If that is what you are trying to do, maybe you have to review and edit to make something coherent.
Our learning point here was that after a few iterations, it makes sense to review your product and refactor some of the design elements if they don’t gel together. Even better, it makes sense to hold an overall vision in your head to guide you from iteration and iteration.
And sometimes it pays to be a bit more Vince than JJ.
(Footnote: How about lining up Vince Gilligan for a future Star Wars film?)