One of my favorite aphorisms is “slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. I think about it a lot. It serves as one of my guiding philosophies.

I first learned this mantra in 2010 when I was at Marine Corps boot camp. We were getting ready for the second phase of rifle qualifications. Back then, there were two courses of fire for rifle qualification. “Table 1” consisted of self-paced shooting at distances ranging from 200 to 500 yards in various shooting positions. Positions were static and the targets were stationary. “Table 2” consisted of various drills on moving and stationary targets. Either the targets were moving or the shooter had to change positions or points of aim. It was a much more dynamic course of fire than Table 1. “Table 2” fire had a time component as well. Shooters started with their weapons pointed at the ground in front of them, with the safety on. They had to raise their weapons, disengage the safety, take three well placed shots on target then return their weapon to the ground, safety on- all in 8 seconds.

The entire platoon was nervous about the time constraint in Table 2. 8 seconds didn’t seem like enough time to complete the round. Firing late, failing to return your weapon to the ground, or missing your safety was a safety violation to everyone around you, so it was not taken lightly. You didn’t want to screw it up.

One of our Drill Instructors sensed that we were nervous and dropped the gem on us. “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” 8 seconds didn’t feel like a lot of time, so shooters were inclined to rush. The thing is, the entire round took no more than 4 or 5 seconds to complete, just over 50% of the allotted time. In reality, 8 seconds was an eternity. Those that rushed to meet the time made mistakes. They missed shots and got flustered. It would take them longer to complete the round than it would have had they been more deliberate. Slowing down made them smoother, more accurate, and ultimately faster.

I use this phrase a lot in my professional life. Thinking through a risky release? Slow down and get it right. Speccing a new feature? Slow down and get it right. Working through a tricky bug? Slow down and get it right. Rushing code out the door today increases the chance that we will have to revisit tomorrow. Once it is in the hands of users, any bug fixes become more urgent. Fixing them takes priority over other work, which means we have some lost opportunity cost. There is also a good chance that we’ve lost some context on the work, so fixing any problems also includes ramp up. We will spend more time fixing the problem than we would have spent on a more deliberate implementation.

Slow down. Get it right.