Chris Burns / Digital Strategy / September 3rd, 2014

Avoiding Squirrel Burgers By Insisting on Quality

Ensuring the quality of our development is paramount, but it can often be a tug-of-war with clients who only insist in getting a product launched with as little effort as possible. It can often be difficult to trust the expertise of your development team, it can also be easy for a development team to compromise the integrity of its work by slimming down tasks to require the least effort possible. Every product we launch goes through rigorous testing by a dedicated Quality Assurance analyst, but to ensure true quality, a product owner must insist upon doing things the right way every time.

The story below was told to me and was attributed to Ken Schwaber (co-author of the Scrum Guide).  I imagine the story has changed slightly as it was passed down, but the underlying principle still stands.

Squirrel Burgers

Fifteen minutes before closing, a man walks into Fat Burger and orders a Double FatBurger, large fries, and a large drink.  The total comes to $7.60.  He pulls out all of the money in his pocket and he only has $4.15.  The kid behind the counter tells him he’s going to have to remove something from his order.  But the man insists, “I need to have all three.  It’s not a meal unless I have a burger, drink, and fries.  Surely you can find some way to get me everything for just $4.15”.

After much contemplation, the kid responds, “Ok, I think I can make it work.  You won’t get a FatBurger, but I can get you something.”

The man responds, “Thank you” and hands over his money.

The kid walks out to the parking lot and uses a spatula to scrape a dead squirrel off the pavement.  He makes the burger by cooking the squirrel and putting it on a bun he dug out of the trash.  The kid hands over the burger, fries, and drink and tells the man to have a good night.

The man eats everything and leaves.

A few days later the man gets very sick and sues Fat Burger for selling him food that made him ill.

Fat Burger represents a development team, and the cashier is a developer.  The squirrel burger represents software that was rushed out the door, knowing it was laden with bugs or technical debt.  Let’s say the squirrel burger is the shopping cart on an online store.  It’s out in the world and starts collecting payments and sending products.  But it turns out there was a bug and the money was never collected.  Even though the man said it’s ok to get that squirrel burger, ultimately the entire development team assumed 100% of the risk (not the man).  No one else is able to fix the issue; just the development team.  When you’re in the daily grind, it’s easy to say, “that won’t be a big deal” or “it’s such an edge case.”  It’s impossible to foresee all of the outcomes, so you should never assume it’ll be fine.

Moral of the story:   Even if we really really want to have three features in our product, this story teaches us that it’s better to deliver two quality ones.  The right thing to do is to choose which items you need the most and just get that.  Choosing to live without a drink and fries might be full of difficult conversations, but you need to have the fortitude to only have a burger today.  The drink and fries will come tomorrow.

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  • Peter Brownstein

    Well said

  • Kate Griggs

    This is something anyone working with a development team needs to read! Quality over squirrel burgers!

  • Jill Jones

    Great story!

  • Courtney D

    Yuck, squirrel burgers.

  • Peter VanRysdam

    Squirrel burgers laden with bugs? Thanks for that image.

  • http://joe-hirst.com Joe Hirst

    Chris, this is a great analogy.
    This touches on the most common reason I refuse new design projects. It’s painful to outright so “no” to any creative project, but if they pay isn’t acceptable, I’d be doing clients an injustice and bad job, if I “met them in the middle” (for lack of a better term) on budgets, and sacrificed quality to do so.

    This seems to be the problem with outsourcing overseas to crazy low cost solutions.

    Thanks for this informative and entertaining post!

    • Christopher Burns

      Thanks! And I agree fully. You could do a quick & cheap design, but then they’ll spend the next 2 years telling everyone about that designer who did a crappy job. I think it’s smart to only take projects that will improve your reputation, not harm it.