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Shiny Object Syndrome can destroy your business.

As a business owner you know that being distracted by shiny things and squirrels is natural.

But picking the future of your company’s technology base because something is new and shiny could be fatal.

Shiny Object Syndrome can have a massive impact on your business – from making your business less effective, less competitive, or even taking out your business.

Let’s get aware of how to spot it and avoid it.


Shiny Object Syndrome – What Is It?

Everyone loves new things and we all get distracted by them. Outstanding leaders pull back their focus and get the job done.

You do this every day running your business.

Is your software team maintaining this same level of focus? You’d better hope so.

The costs to a company, especially a technology-driven company can be enormous if you have what I call Shiny Object Syndrome. This is the adoption of the next greatest thing, which may turn out to be an industry changing capability – or a flash in the pan.

Software teams that are immature tend to look at new trends that come out and jump all over them. New technologies are a ton of fun to play with – whether it’s a framework, database approach, messaging system, new language, operating system, or whatever shiny object gets their attention. When the technology doesn’t really fit but our software team deludes itself that is the new “cure” – we have Shiny Object Syndrome.

A mature team will look at technologies all the time and keep abreast of the real game-changers. They’ll still want to push the envelope so you need to make sure that as new technologies are being adopted it meets your current, mid-term, and long-term business objectives. This is one of the tests that you can apply to ensure you’re not coming down with a case of Shiny Object Syndrome.

Shiny Object Syndrome – Diagnosing

I’m called in all the time to intervene with software teams. Shiny Object Syndrome is one of the things that I look for. I’ve found it is pretty easy to find just by listening to the language patterns of the software. I listen for the following:

  • We just need to refactor to support the new _____. Once that is done things will be way better.
  • We’re working deep down in the database …
  • We’re having some trouble deploying the new ____
  • He’s focused on the new _____
  • We can’t get support from the vendor or the community.
  • We’re waiting on an answer.

If you keep hearing/observing any of those you may have a problem. I’ll add that some of these issues may related to archaic/legacy technology as well – oddly enough.

Avoiding Shiny Object Syndrome

When I am working with a business owner and their software team I have a few more questions that I look for answers on. These questions help everyone to avoid Shiny Object Syndrome. These questions help clarify our thinking. As your team comes up with new ideas and things to try, ask these questions and expect coherent, well thought out answers.

  • Does this meet our current and future (18 months or so) needs? You want to know that a technology works now and has life to it. Who supports it? What’s the community support for it? Picking a high-performance but obscure framework can lock you into a place that you don’t ever want to be.
  • Is there a vendor lock-in? Being stuck with a vendor can be a good thing, but you want the business reasons to be behind locking in with a partner – not the technology. Costs (direct & indirect) go up with vendor lock-in. You want to make sure that the business reasons behind locking in are worth it.
  • How does it fit with our current skills? Does your team have the chops to actually benefit from this technology?
  • Who can help us decide? If you can’t find a neutral advisor to help you may be looking at a problem – or an opportunity.
  • What is driving this decision – market buzz or a deep and well understood architectural fit with our systems?

If you’ve been down the “squirrel” path or had a near-terminal case of Shiny Object Syndrome, let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Are there any particular strategies that you find helps you get control of this natural tendency to look for the new things?