The Under Construction sign in IT - where did it go

The days that every website would go out of its way to display the most interesting picture of yellow and black tape and traffic cones for those pages still under construction during summer are far behind us. 

And you must realize: IT development doesn’t slow down during the summer.

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Summer is here, and in my city, this means road closures, engineering works, and lots of yellow redirection signs popping up all over the place. Gaping holes in the roads reveal the clutter of cables and pipes running underneath our streets and large fences made of plywood sheets cordon off areas under construction. These blank canvases are turned into large-size commercial billboard spaces or showcase local artistic talent.

Seeing this unfold every summer in the streets surrounding my house, I look back to the good old days of IT with some nostalgia. When every website would go out of its way to display the most interesting picture of yellow and black tape and traffic cones for those pages still under construction. 

Those days are far behind us. And it would do most of us well to realize what this means.

IT development doesn’t slow down during the summer.

The speed of construction in IT is awe-inspiring, and the pace seems to be forever picking up. With modern CI/CD pipelines, it becomes possible to push out new and improved versions of your application multiple times a day. New features, new capabilities, and new options are made available to a user base that quickly gets bored with the status quo at an alarming rate.

But however well we can deliver an ‘always shippable product’ it does not mean that the product is no longer under construction. Although the product does not necessarily show this and there are no redirection signs, the user experience will be impacted. It is not for nothing that we invented the ‘beta’ label for that shippable product. It is a message for the user, hinting at the plywood sheet fences that have been carefully painted to look like the building itself. These obstruct work in progress from the carefree tourist moving through our city or the consumer as they use our applications.

Build software with your clients

In the B2B market, it pays to realize that hiding your work can be counterproductive. Understanding the voice of the user, the clear wishes and wants, it is increasingly apparent that you make your clients part of that development journey and deliver on those planned changes. To this end, we see best practices arise regarding how to deal when elements are under construction:

  • Clarify Intent – Ensure that your clients are aware of your product roadmap. Make them part of the dot on the horizon. They are not only buying into your product now but into the relationship for the years to come. Share your timelines and expected delivery dates.
  • Share Early – Make sure key stakeholders are part of the journey. Showcase new screen designs, share early mock-ups, and grant beta access to trusted clients and partners. Being part of the journey allows valuable feedback to be taken on board earlier that can pay dividends further down the line. Construction sites provide viewing windows in the fences, a lesson software leadership could further improve upon.

In the IT industry we have the luck of being able to hide our construction sites if we so choose to, until we are ready to make it available to our clients. And in case your velocity of churning out new features is high enough, you might very well be perfectly fine with radio-silence on further roadmap elements. But for most companies it is hard work getting new capabilities to the market. If this is you, don’t despair. Rather, realize that you can easily make your construction work a feature rather than a nuisance: showcase it, make your client part of the journey. 

Although construction work might not be aesthetically pleasing, it does not have to have a negative effect. Done well, framing construction work should convey the right message to those around and impacted by it: we are building towards the future. And that is a message of hope, ingenuity, and curiosity. A message that also resonates with our IT user crowd.

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