The Battle of Phase 2 vs The Shiny Object

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“We’ll take care of it in Phase 2.”

Famous last words. This is the cry of compromise. It’s a phrase that echoes the silenced screaming of a thousand designers agreeing to less than 100% of the approved design being launched. It’s the tortured souls of disembodied drop-shadows, rounded corners, gradients and animated transitions roaming the nether regions of cyberspace — somewhere between a PSD and a hosted pixel.

But it’s not just designers who fear that phrase. Developer, too, tremble at the thought of hacks, workarounds and generally sloppy code making out to production with the never-to-come promise of future paying down of this technical debt.

And why does Phase 2 wreak such havoc in the minds of those who make web sites? Because Phase 2 rarely stands a chance in the shadow of The Shiny Object.

The Shiny Object is the next thing. It’s new. It’s young. It’s sexy. It begs to be worked on. It’s the future and it’s WAY more interesting than the “thing we JUST finished.” In a waterfall world, there’s almost no standing the way of The Shiny Object. It has the gravitational pull of a black hole sucking any notion of iterating on the feature set just released into its cold, dark center. However, in Agile environments, The Shiny Object stands a greater chance of being defeated because it is Phase 2 (and it’s siblings, Phase 3, 4 and N) that make short, iterative product development cycles possible and palatable to designers and developers.

Phase 2 holds the promise of taking the minimally viable product just released to your customers and making it that much better. That extra layer of data that makes the core experience that much more valuable? Let’s get it in there now. That extra design polish that wasn’t deemed “minimal enough” now gets its turn in the sun.  Yet The Shiny Object looms large even in the Agile workplace yet it is imperative we resist its siren song.

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Ignoring the need for Phase 2 destroys the promise of rapid, iterative design and development. The team inevitably gets that “half-assed” feeling for their work if, at the end of the iteration, it becomes apparent that Phase 2 will not come. In fact, The Shiny Object that has replaced Phase 2 also starts to look less shiny since, as we know, there won’t be enough time to get it truly shiny with The Shinier Object just around the bend.

Phase 2 is crucial to success. You must plan for it. Your Agile workplace depends on it. The expectations must be set early with every stakeholder that multiple phases will be needed to complete this work and that moving on to The Shiny Object will only happen when the team reaches consensus that a minimally desirable product has been developed.

Stay strong my friends.


About Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf is a lean thinking and design evangelist, spreading the gospel of great team collaboration, product innovation and evidence-based decision making. Jeff is an author, speaker and thought leader on the future of product development and design, often teaching workshops or giving talks on building cultures that support teamwork and innovation. Jeff co-founded Neo Innovation, a lean/agile product firm in NYC. Prior to that, he led the UX design teams at TheLadders and Web Trends. Earlier he worked with and led small teams of software designers at AOL. He is the co-author (with Josh Seiden) of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience and the upcoming (Harvard, 2016) Sense and Respond (
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  • bkrasnove

    Agree with a lot of what you say here and in general love this post. Except the part about developers. It depends on the context and who’s saying this phrase, but most developers I’ve worked with would prefer to phase things out so they don’t rush out hacks and workarounds. They develop for the minimum viable feature set, knowing hopefully what phase 2, 3, 4 could be so they can avoid hacks in phase 1. If anything, those who tremble most aside from designers when hearing “let’s do it in phase 2” are the stakeholders who often wonder when that will see the light of day.

  • Jeff Gothelf

    Hmm…maybe my point got lost in all of my Halloween metaphors :-) If there is a belief that Phase 2 is going to happen, then both devs and designers are in good shape knowing their debt will be paid down over the coming iterations. However, if the belief is that *the stakeholders* will get distracted by The Shiny Object before Phases 2, 3 and N can be executed then these same folks will rush and cut corners to make Phase 1’s end date thereby creating a less-than-desirable outcome.nnAnd that’s really what it’s all about….outcome.nnI believe it’s the stakeholders that ultimately are most susceptible to The Shiny Object.nn[Jeff]