Shiny object syndrome in software development
It’s not uncommon to see children mystified by shiny objects. From a young age, we chase after the shiny thing, or the new toy, or the latest popular game. And then interest wanes, and it’s on to the next thing.
This fascination with the new and shiny has an equivalent in software development. But far from being a harmless childish curiosity, ‘shiny object syndrome’ holds far more nefarious ramifications.
Indeed, when it comes to software development, so-called shiny object syndrome can dull both your product and your morale.
What is shiny object syndrome?
Shiny object syndrome is an affliction that sees developers get easily distracted chasing new ‘shiny’ things. It’s a loss of focus on your current project, as you go off on a tangent after the latest attention-grabbing innovation.
The ‘shiny objects’ in shiny object syndrome aren’t literal shiny things (most of the time). Rather, it’s the pursuit of the newest technologies and trends as they come into vogue.
With shiny object syndrome, this tangential shiny thing soon becomes dull, and you end up chasing after a newer, shinier thing. Before long, your original project is buried.
Shiny object syndrome is sometimes referred to as ‘SOS’. As it turns out, this initialism is apt, because if you have SOS it’s time to call for help.
How it affects you
Shiny object syndrome in software development leads to waste. Wasted time, wasted energy, and wasted money. Worse still, this waste hurts your software product.
• Never finished
For a start, because you’re always chasing the latest shiny thing, shiny object syndrome makes it near impossible to finish your projects. You get excited about the new before you’ve finished your current project. Then the new thing gets cast aside when a newer, shinier thing comes along. Rinse and repeat, and you have a lot of unfinished work and nothing complete.
• Hurt morale
In turn, this impacts team morale. Not finishing anything becomes frustrating after a while. It gets overwhelming when you have countless unfinished projects and little to show for your time and effort.
• Weaker software
Chasing the new can also cause damage to your current project. You drop focus on the main function and goals of your software. As a result, you lose sight of the value you’re bringing to your users. That value gets buried by feature creep, as you tack more and more shiny features onto software that doesn’t need it.
Shiny object syndrome has you so excited about the bells and whistles, that the substance of your software gets buried and forgotten.
How to avoid shiny object syndrome
So, how to avoid the siren call of shiny object syndrome?
Stop. Ask questions. Analyse the shiny thing.
When a new shiny object dances into your attention, don’t rush headlong towards it. Take some time to analyse it. Ask:
Is it right for your software?
A shiny object is only going to stay shiny if it provides value to your users once included. Does the shiny thing fit with your current direction? Think about how it will benefit or hinder your software.
What are the extra costs involved?
Think about the time, energy and money costs. Consider whether you can afford to chase after this new thing — whether it’s worth the price. Also remember the cost to your software. Will something else get scrapped to make room for it? Is it worth the trade?
If you think that the shiny object is still worth going for, communicate with the rest of your team. Find out whether they agree that it could add value and that it’s doable. An outside perspective can help you recognise if you’re falling foul of shiny object syndrome.
SOS – save our software!
As children, the shiny thing we chased was just a wrapper. The new toy is yesterday’s news, the game is boring. The moment we found it, our interest turned to the next new thing.
It’s hard not to feel excited when a new idea, tool, feature, or framework comes your way. When the newest technology or method is making the headlines, it makes sense that you want to take part in the shiny new action.
But beware shiny object syndrome — all that glitters is not gold, and falling for it is bound to cost you more than disappointment.
Tech innovation: is our obsession unhealthy?
Feature creep: everything but the kitchen sink. Is your software guilty?
Your product update: don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater