Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

‚ÄčI think it originally comes from the military, probably the US Navy SEALs, but it’s a popular trope in the racing world, and equally applicable to software development: “slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. It’s intentionally conflicting, but it succinctly states the idea that taking the time to do something well allows you to accomplish the end goal faster overall. 

In autocross, it’s often the run that looks or feels slow that turns out to be fast. There are a few reasons why, and the allegory to development is not hard to see. A lack of excitement or surprises may seem slow, but it’s a sign of tight control and keeping within limits. Smooth, gentle, practiced driver inputs can appear almost casual in their ease. 

On the other hand, the very active driver, who is constantly manipulating the controls and struggling to maintain control and riding the very razor’s edge of traction (or past it) appears to be fast. There’s a lot going on, a lot of action, some squealing and sliding and tire smoke. But the timer doesn’t lie: these runs are not fast. They only appear fast. 

The key is separating being busy from being productive. Not only are they not the same, they’re often in direct opposition to one another. But it may be the busy team that appears productive on the surface. 

The team that fills calendars with meetings and holds war room sessions and works late nights and fixes critical bugs at the last minute looks fast. They can’t waste time on careful thought or refactoring or automation, they’ve got features to ship! But it’s the team that works their eight hours each day with no fuss and no panic, that spends time on automating everything they can, that takes steps to detect and mitigate problems early, that thinks through problems and solutions before writing code, that will accomplish the most at the end of the week. 

Urgency is not a requirement of productivity. Remember: slow is smooth, smooth is fast.