Brad Feld

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Outlawed Words: SOME and OK

Dec 16, 2004

In my first company (Feld Technologies), we wrote customer software for medium sized businesses. This was back in the late 80’s / early 90’s – pre client/server (remember dbase, Paradox, Access, Clarion, and DataFlex.) It was hard – and our goal – as I’ve said before on this blog – was to suck less.

I just had an email exchange with one of my companies where I said “if this takes ZERO engineering on our side other than packaging and support and ZERO licensing fees” then I’d support chasing after a specific opportunity in the near term. The answer back was “there is potential for SOME engineering.” The debate ensued.

At Feld Technologies, I used to walk down the hall and ask folks “how things were going.” The most common answer from our consultants and engineers was “OK.” After a while, I realized OK could mean anything from “it’s great – I’m on plan, on budget, kicking ass, and feeling good” to “my life sucks, I just broke up with my boyfriend, the client is a shithead, the last build is completely broken, and I want to kill Joe because he’s such an asshole when he gives me feedback on my code.” SOME is similar – it could mean “all I’ve got to do is spend an all-nighter and all is well” to “it’ll take our entire engineering organization the next 12 months.”

At Feld Technologies, we outlawed the word OK. Whenever someone used it, a sit-down meeting was generated to find out what was really going on. SOME – and plenty of other words – are the same. Outlaw them – don’t make decisions based on vagueries.