Quick & dirty vs gold-plated – that is the question for IT developers

Quick & dirty vs gold-plated – that is the question for IT developers

17 May 2019
Project management
Read the article

What’s best – quick & dirty development or fine tuning every minor detail. In general, it’s all a question of timing and risk management. To understand the principles and outcomes of these two seemingly totally opposite approaches, Nicolas Deverge, the founder of TeamMood and a fervent supporter of the Lean Startup methodology and Bernard Blanc, Nuclear Development Director at Assystem, give their divergent points of view.

Going quick & dirty to create a system for measuring wellbeing at work

Based on iterative design and experimentation, Lean Startup is a methodology used for launching products that’s focused on satisfying customer demand. It requires minimum initial investment. Once a market opportunity has been identified, the original idea is developed up to a “minimum viable project” stage, with sufficient basic features to allow for subsequent market testing. The product is then improved and honed iteratively, factoring in user feedback, with the developers deciding whether to “pivot or persevere”, until a full (but not necessarily final) version is created.

Having helped many startups and innovation departments in large French corporations to implement the Lean Startup methodology, Nicolas wanted carry out real-life experiments himself. He had so many ideas he didn’t know which to choose. In the end he opted to draw on his agility coaching experience and came up with the idea for an online mood board to measure employees’ wellbeing at work. So he created a landing page, used Google Docs to get the e-mail addresses of anyone interested in the project, and discovered that people seemed to like the idea. Nicolas then interviewed some of those people, who confirmed they were interested in the system he was thinking about. So the market opportunity was identified. But that didn’t mean he was going to give up everything without having a product to sell. He started working on the project in parallel with his day-job. Devoting 2 to 3 hours’ development time a week, it took him 8 to 10 months to come up with an initial usable tool, which he intends to continue to develop iteratively through user feedback. As far as Nicolas is concerned, “TeamMood would never have existed without Lean Startup. If I’d gone down the gold-plated route it would have put too many barriers in my path and I would never have taken the first step.”

Gold-plated development – essential for complex projects like ITER

Conversely, in some cases, tests, controls and fine-tuning are not only a good idea but an absolute necessity. The railway, aerospace and, of course, nuclear, sectors have strict safety and process control requirements, as Bernard well knows for the major programmes he’s responsible for.

One example is ITER, the international programme to build a nuclear fusion reactor for use in a power plant (unlike current nuclear power plants that are based on fission). This project – which is a world first and is being led by some 35 countries – was made possible thanks to unique global scientific co-operation, with the pooling of the skills and expertise of each country participating both financially and technically in building a plant on a totally new scale. This shared approach will enable the participating countries (Europe, India, South Korea, China, Japan, the USA and Russia) to each develop their own industrial fabric and therefore be able to build and operate their own ITER once the prototype is completed. The aim of this game-changing project is to revolutionise the future of energy production for humanity and it even opens up new avenues for space exploration. But we’re going to have to wait until the next century before we see a nuclear fusion reactor operating on a truly industrial scale. We’re a long way from the quick & dirty deployment described by Nicolas.

According to Bernard, the construction phase of the buildings (Europe’s contribution-in-kind to the project) requires skills that are quite common in the engineering industry: feasibility studies, project management, materials resistance assessments, electrical engineering etc. But what makes it different is the size of the equipment involved (several dozen metres high) and the assembly precision needed (to the nearest millimetre or even less). “That’s why a gold-plated approach is essential – because of the size of the equipment combined with the precision of the assembly.”

However, given the radically innovative nature of the project, each country is moving forward by trial and error in their particular domain “We’re moving forward a bit in start-up mode with some things completely under control but others not quite yet.”

Uncertainty is necessary for creativity and innovation

For Nicolas, the real advantage of the “quick & dirty” approach he used for creating TeamMood is the low outlay required for launching a project. “The market is continually evolving. I’m not in my customers’ heads and I don’t know exactly what they want. By using Lean Startup I was able to get my project off the ground quickly without having to invest too much time or money. That meant it didn’t matter if I got it wrong as I didn’t have much to lose. I started to really get involved in the project when I saw there was real demand for it.”

“Conversely, I saw that quite a few of my former customers tended to go big before testing their projects out on their target audience. When you invest so much time and money in a project, no one wants to admit it’s a failure. Rather than “quick & dirty”, I’d call it a “test & learn” approach. A culture of learning and accepting failure is crucial for innovation.”

This means that even for projects where there can be no risks, such as ITER, as soon as there’s a degree of uncertainty it’s impossible to plan everything in advance. “When the agreement between the ITER project’s various partners was signed in 2005 many aspects were still uncertain. The project involves pushing the boundaries of our knowledge of materials and inventing new techniques and technologies. For an engineer working on ITER, it’s a unique project in terms of contributing to the future of humankind.

To sum up, haven’t we always needed uncertainty and trial and error to drive creativity and innovation, whether on a scale of a few weeks or months or several decades? A prime example is the beginning of space exploration, when no-one was sure they’d be successful but just the launch of the programme fuelled a giant technological leap forward for all the countries involved.

Share :

Something to say ?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Bernard Blanc

Nuclear Development Director Assystem

Nicolas Deverge

Founder TeamMood

Our vacancies

Learn more

Related articles

Being an engineer in Tours: "a historic setting for large-scale projects"

Large-scale projects in the nuclear and defense sectors are multiplying in Tours thanks to the many partners present in the region. A perfect opportunity to discover the city known as “Little Pa...

Being an engineer in Cherbourg: "a real feeling of freedom".

The first is working on a major nuclear project, the second on naval defence project engineering. Alexis Turcan and Jérôme Lecolazet have both chosen the Cotentin region to live and work. Seduced by t...

10 good reasons to go and work in the Cotentin region

Just a few hours from Paris, the Cotentin region is renowned for its idyllic living environment, as well as the dynamism of its industries, particularly in the nuclear and defence sectors. Here are 10...

Before moving abroad, you have to know your host environment well

Since May 2019 Assystem has been supporting Uzbekistan in its energy transition thanks to the implementation of the country’s new energy mix (new production infrastructures, transport networks a...

"Working on the construction site of a nuclear power plant and living a five-minute walk from the sea"

As an expatriate in Turkey, Alexia Sergeant is involved in the ambitious nuclear programme of Akkuyu. Beyond the professional challenge, this young engineer shares a real love for a country rich in cu...

"I'm in the right place"

Italian by birth, Paolo Minelli has joined the Assystem team in France last February. His role: managing the data-scientist team and contributing to improve the performance of the group’s projec...

"I've been offered the opportunity to move on to several positions"

Between France and the UK, Nicholas Morris is currently experiencing the daily challenge of developing Assystem’s business around the British EPR project, Hinkley Point C. “FascinatingR...

Will we still need engineers in the future?

The question is not as strange as it might seem. Given the phenomenal growth of digital technology, robotics and artificial intelligence, where does this leave the engineers of tomorrow? How will they...

No, I'm not a superhero

For ordinary people, when we talk about engineers, is the image of Steve Job, inventor of the first Macintosh and founder of a now trillionaire company, or Elon Musk, imagining alone the car new gener...

So what exactly is an engineer?

Engineer /ɛndʒɪˈnɪə/, derived from the Middle English “engineour” and from the Old French “engigneor” – a designer and constructor of fortifications and weapons. > A person ...

Commute, work, sleep ... Inside an engineer's head during a banal day

Builders of bridges or power plants, application developers, designers, project managers … But what exactly do all these engineers do? Between meetings, exchanges with the client, team managemen...

When I grow up, I want to be an engineer!

Engineering schools are still as popular as ever. Why? Do we really know what an engineer is? Their backgrounds? Their daily lives? To answer this, we met up with three of them to find out more about ...

NASA’s taking nuclear energy into space

The conquest of space is more than ever at the centre of public attention, with projects like SpaceX and The Stealth Space Company, but who better than NASA to fulfil this dream that has existed for t...

Big Data Automation

It’s no secret that data is the lifeblood of more and more companies. While it brings many benefits for those who use it wisely, it creates just as many constraints for those who don’t. Ma...

Saudi, land of oil… and engineers

In Saudi, being an engineer is more than any profession. With “Saudi Vision 2030” plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil and diversify its economy, Saudi engineers are becoming a rare c...

Being a woman engineer in the land of the Corcovado mountain

Happiness seems to be the watchword in the home of samba and the caipirinha. But the cool and carefree image that Brazilians present to the world is juxtaposed against a very different reality. The re...