Local Peaks: thoughts, ideas and lessons learned from a web-native CEO/CTO

No “four legged fish”, please.

December 03, 2008 |
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Evolution is a powerful force in nature.  Through a long sequence of small, sometimes imperceptible, changes, land mammals became whales and apes became man.  But such roads are not straight and narrow - evolution makes mistakes, it goes off on tangents, it starts in one direction only to be steered back in another.  The products of such digressions are the out-of-place creatures such as Ichthyostega, the “four legged fish”.  Some oddities linger around for a while in their obscurity, but for the most part, they are forgotten.

In software development, these evolutionary offshots are such things as "custom" or "one-off" features.  How many SaaS platforms out there have platform code specific to individual customers?  Does

      if(customerid==1234){

look familiar?  I suspect more SaaS companies have such code in production than would like to admit it. 

Sometimes deals require one missing feature or enhancement to be added.  Whenever possible, it is far better to either turn the “special” request into a legitimate feature for all customers to use, or to simply say “No thanks, four legged fish are not allowed here”. 

However, in some extreme cases (particularly with early stage products and companies) the right thing to do is actually to make that custom addition and acquire the new customer.  CAUTION: this must be done with acceptance that this WILL (and I repeat, WILL) come back to haunt you at some point.  These custom additions are difficult to maintain and there is usually only one of two people who may remember how the code is supposed to work when it either breaks or needs changes.  Certainly not a scalable or sustainable practice.

The “four-legged fish” Ichthyostega is not the "missing link" between marine and land animals, but rather one of several short-lived “experiments”.


 

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