FC Barcelona just wrapped up a 3-1 win over Manchester United to come out on top of the UEFA soccer league. Watching the match brought home the fact that speed, persistence, and teamwork usually prevails over quality, brilliance, and individuality.
Barcelona followed a simple tactic. They swarmed around their opponents and got the ball into their possession as quickly as possible, made electric runs for the goal, and attempted a shot almost every time. Three of those shots went through the goal posts. ManU showed some quality footwork and well executed runs, but they were so few and far apart that they never had a serious chance to score.
How does this apply to product and technology development?
Jeff Atwood narrates an interesting story of sophisticated MIG-15 fighters losing to lower tech F-86s because their pilots could consistently and speedily out-flank their better equipped opponents. These observations prompted military strategist John Boyd to conclude that Speed of iteration beats quality of iteration. Jeff goes on to illustrate how Google Chrome achieved significant adoption through rapid iterations in an incredibly shorter time than Microsoft was able to do with Internet Explorer.
The ideas of time-to-market and first-mover-advantage have been around for a while. However, the concept of rapid iteration as the key to success have emerged strongly with the rise of Internet-based business and the paradigm shift to Software as a Service (SaaS). Online development has become so accessible that such businesses are easy to conceive, launch, test, and pivot around at incredibly low costs. Companies that still live in the world of enterprise software have tough times ahead of them if they can not or will not learn the build, test, learn, repeat cycle, overcome their process-driven culture, become agile, and execute rapidly.