Building Momentum — The brutal struggle to build and maintain product development momentum

It’s been 5 months since we launched Lists.io. It only took 32 hours to get the product from idea to launch, but after that initial bang, things slowly fizzled out. It wasn’t for lack of ideas, or resources, or even a lack of planning that our progress began to fade. We simply lost momentum.

Momentum: The impetus and driving force gained by the development of a process or course of events.

Maybe it’s me, but momentum is a difficult beast to battle. To continually be making progress. To not get burned out. To not lose focus. To maintain a steady course. To execute quickly and swiftly, without ceasing. Momentum is not easy.

Often rather than build momentum we end up building up to big bangs. Bangs are the explosions that happen then fizzle out until the next big bang occurs. Bangs are the highs and lows, the roller coaster ride that is often any product or development cycle. Big bangs are not a healthy cycle and can be really hard to interrpret if actual progress has been made.

It’s only been in the last 3 weeks that we’ve started gaining momentum with Lists. We’ve turned out more features and made more improvements in the last 3 weeks than in the previous 3 months. We were able to launch social logins, search, liking, feed, recommendations, mobile improvements, and more. Here are a few of the things we’ve learned.

1. Simplify your features

This one was pretty obvious, but we are always reminded of it. Don’t let your ideas and features get out of control. If you’re working on a side-project (like us) or only have limited time you can’t blow this one. Seriously consider versioning your features. Our Feed V1 is not our end plan for our Feed, but it got something out the door. Use your time wisely to simplify first, focus and narrow your features, and stick to it. Don’t overcomplicate it.

2. Take bites

After launching we quickly started working on a few things, the only problem was these were big bites and honestly we bit off more than we could chew. We only had limited time to dedicate to development and with big features in front of us, progress was slow. It wasn’t until we shipped those big things, after a month or two of development, that we realized our mistakes and began to simplify.

Small wins build momentum.

Small wins bring immediate satisfaction. Small wins bring immediate feedback and use. Small wins help you figure out where to place big bets. A few line drive base hits are way more valuable than one long high fly ball that might not make it out of the park.

3. Leverage your small wins

Once we had a win under our belt we used that same code to turn around another quick win. For example: Search and Feed. In our case both looked up Lists, one by keyword and one by most recent. Being able to piggy back on that code allowed us to add a new feature way quicker than starting from scratch. Find opportunities to leverage your small wins in to more wins. Position your features to compound and amplify each other. Think of each small win as a stepping stone to the next small (but bigger) win.

4. Find a flow

Know what is awesome? Rhythm. That feeling when you and your team are able to work quickly and collaboratively, and ship product. That is a great feeling. When code is getting pushed and pulled, design files are being passed around, copy is being written and tweaked, feedback is flying, and confident decisions are made without hesitation, all with a beautiful flow that feels easy and effortless. Mmmmm. Flow.

Here are a few things that help us get our flow on:

  • Take action rather than wait around or hesitate. Things can always be changed later. If you need to improvise a design, do it. If the back-end is not finished, start the front end. If you don’t take action no one will.
  • Communicate early and often. Show your progress. Ask questions and get feedback as soon as possible. The more you collaborate the more your can iron out the details while you’re flowing. -Share in the excitement. There are small micro wins within each of these small wins. Find them and share them. It may be a mock up, or the first working version, or a cool transition or animation. Build on that excitement.
  • Focus on getting the small win. Nothing else matters.
  • Ship It. Always be pushing to ship.

We were finally able to find a flow over the last 3 weeks. We use Slack and that is immensely helpful, but what is even better is getting around a table for a couple hours a week and just working. Being in the trenches together, all moving fast at the same target, and being able to collaborate in person is the best.


Lists is nowhere near where we want it to be. We know there is a lot of work to be done, but we have a little momentum going right now and we’re going to keep pushing forward.

How do you build and maintain momentum with your products or projects?

Let us know. Oh… and checkout Lists.io.