Burn parties

Part of running a product company is shipping new features, but the other often less considered part is regularly trimming the existing inventory. When a product has been superseded, or the pain it’s causing is outweighing the benefits that it’s providing, or it’s just reached the end of its useful lifespan, it’s time for it to be retired. And as any engineer who’s seen production can tell you, tearing down a product that has users on it can be almost as difficult as building one anew. But despite the effort involved, the work that’s been put into a deprecation project is rarely acknowledged to anywhere near the same extent as it might have been if applied to a new product.

One somewhat ingenious cultural invention from Heroku is the burn party. Its purpose is to celebrate the work involved in removing things, and thus maintain a more streamlined company. The mechanics are simple: light up a fire pit or brazier 1. Symbolic effigees are prepared to represent dead products. One by one, each product owner approaches the open fire and explains the sordid history behind what’s being retired and provides a graphic description of the effort that’s gone into its removal.

The effigy is then sacrificed to the open flame.

1 A bonfire is ideal, but after all, you’re probably in San Francisco.

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