Exploratory work is often needed when trying a novel idea. As a good idea at first might end up highly impractical in reality. Which is why when doing a PoC, the outcome is not always a success. If it was, it would be a prototype.

There is often push back against those PoC failures as it means “wasted effort”. This is a common misconception, and is mostly due to lack of proper knowledge safeguarding.

A common statement from a failed PoC is:

We spent a week to explore many options, but we have learned a lot of useful information by working on it.

While this is exactly the purpose of doing those PoC in the first place, often those useful information are not retained in a sustainable manner, not broadcasted to others.

I always suggest to keep a “mission log” along the journey. It will prove itself quite valuable to the rest of the team.

“Mission Logs” as “Captain’s Log”

Ancient tribes traditions of “oral transmission around a campfire” are a quite awesome and friendly manner of information dissemination, but those cannot scale in a modern world.

This is an well known problem, and various “retro meetings” are an evolution of those ancient campfires. That makes them invaluable for mood sharing & specific problem solving. Yet still not a great fit for sharing journeys in uncharted territories of new features & PoC.

Those journeys are much more similar to the exploration across seas from the past. Which naturally leads us to the need of a Captain’s Log that was the adequate way to record those.

Captain's Log

A Captain’s Log had actually various use cases:

  • The log was used to inform the captain’s superiors of what was happening on a mission and to record historical facts for future generations.

  • In the case that space pirates attack us, here will be a record of what we are building and why we are building it.

But my real use is:

In the Captain’s Log you will find a detailed description of what our product team is building and the intention behind our product decisions. The audience of the Captain’s Log is future Captains. The intention is to write the Captain’s Log to help the future me recall what has happened and to write as if no one is watching.

I actually do write mission logs in a pure selfish mood. To allow myself to forget. Then I can just find it again. The fact that it might serve others is just bonus.

Why Tracer Bullets are Important for Teamwork

Tracer bullets do actually serve 3 purposes.

  • Show me where my bullet do actually land.
  • Show me where others bullets do actually land.
  • Serve as a deterrent for opponents.

They have a drawback:

  • They also show the origin of the bullets.

Show me where my bullet do actually land

This is very important, as the ballistics of bullets in the midst of a battle can be hard to predict. It is therefore much more effective to have it go the real way, and see the outcome.

And in a debugging analogy, it shows where you currently are what your currently tested, and what assumptions you need to change to move forward.

Show me where others bullets do actually land.

This enables a very nice teamwork, as a team member immediately knows where you are. And can then decide on helping you out if your struggling and they have the knowledge avoid retrying the exact things you failed, but aim for a somehow different path.

Serve as a deterrent for opponents

This is sometimes the most overlooked benefit : if you show you are doing it, you will immediately silence most of the “this can’t be done” sayings. This will then save you a lot of time arguing on the why it should be tried even facing low odds.

They also show the origin of the bullets

That’s the most feared consequence.

It puts you in a position that makes you vulnerable if you fail. But trust me, real failure is not missing the goal. Failure is spending time for useless results. But you cannot be more wrong, since a mission log makes you safer.

Having the mission log in the first place immediately add results in the form of knowledge, even in the eventuality that the goal is missed.

And since having a reliable recording of the journey makes it even much more likely to hit that goal, it is a win-win scenario.