Primero Systems Blog

Stop Building “Just-in-Case” Software

A popular phrase over the decades has been “Build it and they will come”. In software, that simply isn’t true. Let’s make sure we’re building software “Just-in-Time” instead of “Just-in-Case”.

The terms “Just-in-Time” (JIT) and “Just-in-Case” (JIC) may seem familiar to you in the context of manufacturing and inventory management, but they apply equally as well (or even better!) to software development.

In short, make sure that whatever the heck you’re building has a known need and well-defined scope! It’s way too easy, and often even a bit of fun, to try to build a product or program that you think meets or exceeds every possible present and future need. The problem there is that typically nobody cares!

There are no awards given for systems that do more than they need to. And more importantly, there’s often a significant amount of sunk costs that go into over-engineering something.
As an example on the extreme side, let’s reference this little company you may have heard of named Amazon. In 2014, Amazon launched its new Fire Phone on which they eventually took about a $170 MILLION-dollar loss. In hindsight, the numerous post-mortems describe a product that had no distinctions other than extra features that nobody particularly cared for. (Read more here: The Inside Story Of Jeff Bezos’s Fire Phone Debacle) Amazon had clearly lost their way when it came down to building something that the end-user actually wanted and/or needed.

On a much smaller and more personal side, imagine the following scenario. What if you aren’t much of a “techie” and on a whim, you decide to build yourself a website from scratch to promote yourself. Most likely, you would casually spend months learning the rudimentary technical skills, slap something together that seemingly sufficed and then moved on with your life. It’s unlikely that your finished product would be as perfect and presentable as you’d like, and the skills you learned would likely diminish quickly over time.

On the other hand, if you suddenly became unemployed, and your prospects of landing your dream job hinged on having a website to promote yourself, the outcome is likely much different! In this scenario, you would have a driving motivation to produce something to be proud of in a fraction of the time.

In the first scenario, you were building something “Just-in-Case” that you didn’t particularly want or need, and the output reflected it. In the second scenario, you built something “Just-in-Time” at the moment of greatest need and you nailed it! Not only was the finished result better, but so was the time and effort involved to get there. IOW — it was a lean operation.

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