A month ago, I had a chance to read The Case for Slow Design by Jesse Weaver. It was suggested to me as an example of how you can misunderstand the concept of minimum viable product (MVP).
You don’t have to read The Case for Slow Design to continue reading this post. I’m going to summarize Weaver’s main point here: Craftsmanship is the new advantage for product companies. Being a craftsman means that you “sweat the details”, “pour [your] soul into the work” and “spend untold hours creating [your] masterpiece.” We shouldn’t consider getting a product out to be better than getting it perfect. We shouldn’t strive for minimum viable.
My initial problem with Weaver was his argument that MVPs lead to impossible deadlines, lack of focus, and products that aren’t meaningful. I believe that building an MVP means that you resize your project so that you can set a reasonable deadline. I believe that an MVP forces you to define the core essentials of your product. There is no room for lack of focus. I believe that an MVP is much more about what your customer wants rather than what you want as a creator. At the end of the day, your customer will be the one defining the meaning and value of your product.
A couple of weeks went by and I was still thinking about the article. I couldn’t stop wondering what made Weaver dislike MVPs so much. What’s so wrong about making a product that is just enough to help you figure out whether you’re on to something or not.
And then it hit me. I think Weaver’s article might be a cry for employee happiness. An argument for craftsmanship in terms of what it can add to a worker’s life.
An argument for craftsmanship
We humans value craftsmanship. We value the craftsmanship of other people. But even more, we value our own craftsmanship.
When you try to perfect your cooking, you are adding craftsmanship to your everyday life. You get a thrill of putting effort into something and seeing your skills improve in extremely concrete ways.
You don’t try to perfect your cooking so that you can start selling lunches on the street. There are no customers for whom you are creating value. But you might share your cooking with your friends and family. Your hobby is not purely a narcissistic effort. In addition to seeing your own skills improve, you see your work improving the lives of other people.
You feel satisfied. You feel good about yourself. And this is happening even when nobody is giving you any money to validate your pursuit for craftsmanship.
In my free time I write this blog and I code things. I don’t get paid for either of those spare time activities. I’m talking about personal projects here. I do work as a software developer and for that I get a monthly paycheck. But when I get to write and code on my own terms, I feel a sense of deep satisfaction. I can experiment more. I can tinker.
In addition, the results of my writing and coding have utility. Other people besides me can enjoy them. This adds to my satisfaction.
Let me bring this back to work life. Unlike Weaver, I’m not comfortable making the argument that craftsmanship will directly translate to customer value. I’m not comfortable making the argument that craftsmanship will save your company.
Craftsmanship is not the new advantage. Craftsmanship is not even the sign of a real artist. The phrase “real artists ship” still holds true. Getting your product out is more important than getting it perfect.
What is true is that craftsmanship can make you feel more balanced. It can give you energy. It can make you feel like you aren’t wasting your life away.
But what are you really willing to give up for those feelings?
Are you willing to pass a client project that compromises your ideas of craftsmanship? Are you willing to earn less money than your friends in return for greater meaning in your work? If so, how much less are you willing to earn?
Right now, would you rather make more money or would you rather have more fulfilling work hours?
I’m not saying you can’t have both. A great income and a great life of craftsmanship do not contradict each other. But when you prioritize things, you have to be willing to accept that sometimes you won’t get everything you want.
If salary has a greater meaning to you than craftsmanship when looking for a job, you are literally prioritizing great income over great craftsmanship. And if those are your values, then why shouldn’t your employer have those values as well? Why should your employer care more about craftsmanship than you?