Empower process at your start-up. Use the VQR reticle.

The Velocity, Quality, and Reliability (VQR) reticle is a tool to empower employees at a start-up to engage with each other, leadership, and most importantly, their product in a process oriented and empirical way. This will result in a high quality, reliable piece of software that can pivot and change fast.

This model was born out of my experience working for three different start-ups in Seattle as an iOS Developer. I’m also a former airline pilot with a passion for process, communication, and results. I also hold a business degree from University of Washington.

I’m so bad at first person shooters that I really only enjoy picking out a good reticle. This is the page that I probably spent the most time on in Call of Duty.

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It gave me hope that with the right guide to precision I could overcome the lack of time I was willing to invest into practice.

Practice is too simple of a term to describe what a start-up needs to succeed. Some of the pieces that can lead to success are the people you hire, the culture you form, the technology you use, and strategy.

Process can also be a defining piece of your success and the VQR reticle aims to be a process to help develop process.

The reticle analogy comes from the fact that a software product is usually aimed at a target market. In most first person shooters you lose accuracy as you move the reticle. The same for a start-up that is trying to establish product market fit. The concept of accuracy in a start-up can be broken down into three things:

  • Velocity → Move fast and break things (facebook mantra)
  • Quality → Pixel perfection and great user experience
  • Reliability → Your software consistently accomplishes what it supposed to

So now your reticle looks like this:

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As a software start-up, ideally you have aimed right at your target market and all three pieces of your reticle connect flawlessly.

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There are two fundamental questions you have to ask when you make decisions, pitch an internal idea, or take initiative to make this model actionable.

  1. How will this decision tighten the VQR around the target?

2. What will happen to that work if you have to change the product?

Let’s take a look at some practical examples.

Content writer example

Your job is to maintain a blog and work on SEO for the start-up. Right now the website is hosted on Squarespace. You know that hosting your own site would position you more favorably for SEO (velocity). It will also make the site faster (quality). But what if you had to pivot? Well, all the work to self-host is permanent. Maybe you get set back on the SEO side but you have a faster website which will help you recover from the SEO setback. Velocity and quality stick.

Designer example

You have a beautiful color palette but the colors are not used consistently. You draw the VQR Reticle on the whiteboard. Immediately color standardization will help quality. It will also help velocity if you are able to take the extra time to provide a guide for how color should be used. The color guide frees up time because other team members can use it to accomplish work autonomously. If the product has to change you might have to modify the guide or colors. That’s a hit on velocity but once you update the guide the process is still in place, which maintains a margin on that velocity.

Developer example

According to the 2018 Stack Overflow survey, the two things that matter most to developers at a job are the ability to grow and the tech they work with. Personally, I have been really into learning Behavior Driven Development (BDD). It’s a great way to get tests into your project, both from the unit level and the integrated level. Testing can be a hard sell at a start-up but let’s draw the VQR reticle on the whiteboard. What pieces of the app will not change? Probably connecting to the server and basic authentication. Tests buy you all three things on the VQR reticule by making you write better, reliable code and freeing up velocity to work on that UI polish (Quality). Testing the basic functionality of your software will not have to change unless the company pivots in a really big way.

While I have given three examples of using this model there are other things that can be adopted on a company wide level that can both help bring the VQR closer to the target and make it easier to pivot.

  • Collect data for decision making
  • Develop or adopt processes then document them
  • Develop or adopt standards / frameworks and then document them

The VQR Reticule on culture and attitudes

There is an ancillary benefit to the VQR model. In the aviation world when you learn to be a pilot you are taught about the “Hazardous” attitudes. These attitudes are identified in the Aviation industry as being detrimental to safety.

Anti Authority -> Rules don’t apply to me

Impulsivity -> Not following process

Invulnerability -> It won’t happen to me

Macho -> I can do this better than others

Resignation -> There is nothing I can do to fix this

These attitudes are part of start-up culture and have a negative effect on happiness at work and the ability for a company to make software that everyone can be proud of and return a profit.

When implemented, the VQR reticule can be a process that helps fulfill its own agenda. Having a simple model to point to when you need to make a decision, pitch an internal idea, or take initiative goes a long way in cutting out hazardous attitudes. Removing these attitudes and focusing on process leads to software that is developed free of egos and whims.

So, next time you need to make a decision, have an idea, or want to take initiative at your start-up, draw the reticle on the board. Point to it while you talk. And let me know if it worked for you!

I contribute to the start-up grind in Seattle as an iOS Engineer. I also used to fly airplanes.

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