It almost doesn’t matter what we are talking about, but often standardizations and guidelines make our life easier. You don’t need to search for answers on your own and spend a lot of time on it. A lot of time, we are happy if there is an outlined path with clear signage and instructions, a Golden Path. Wherever you are going, having a map will make the journey easier.
It’s the definition of “work smarter, not harder” – meaning that you want to use all the best practices to achieve the best results. We are not implying you shouldn’t work hard, quite the opposite. But, grabbing that hand outstretched in the offering, should be a no-brainer. Golden Paths or paved roads have been around for quite some time. And you definitely should sing “Follow the yellow brick road”, because just like in the Wizard of Oz, that’s the road you should walk on.
So, about Golden Paths?
When most think about the Golden Paths they often refer to the Spotify case. They are among some of the most famous examples where Golden Paths have been incorporated. Their Golden Path was created for engineering purposes – to guide developers in onboarding and performing tasks based on best practices. But what exactly is a Golden Path?
Golden Path is often defined as an opinionated and supported way to build something. Mainly it is used in software development as a guidebook of well-defined, structured, and task-specific paths to develop applications and software, faster, with better quality and control. But it is not limited only to development processes. It can be applied to various business procedures as well, from onboarding to sales, and so on.
A Golden Path is a cluster of best practices, knowledge, insights, and tools that are supposed to minimize complexity and dependencies on others in development or business processes. It is supposed to make life easier for anyone coming on board and catching up with how something is done according to the company culture, rules, and learnings.
These pathways are basically templates and frameworks on how to do something more easily and without issues or bugs. It’s a self-service tool or guide that shows the way to efficiently perform common tasks.
It’s not always about development
Even though when we talk about Golden Paths we mostly think about software development, they can also be utilized in other business procedures.
Onboarding materials are a great showcase of what a Golden Path is. It’s a roadmap for anyone new entering the company with instructions and how-to’s when setting up for work and a new working environment.
It’s not only that, but it’s about which equipment and technology will you use and how. Even how to do simple tasks like setting up your work accounts and the process behind everything you might need.
In sales or marketing a Golden Path could be oriented on how to do their job more efficiently following a brand’s name and image. Other Golden Path could be observed from the user’s or consumer’s point of view. For example, defining each scenario of their behavior and what is the company’s answer to each action they might take – from user intention to user outcome.
Each situation that can be described with appropriate steps and actions can be introduced in the Golden Path. The point is to reduce complexity, anticipate possible struggles, and speed up the delivery of tasks with desired results.
Can over-standardization or Golden Paths kill creativity?
It’s an interesting debate if Golden Paths kill creativity and free thinking. Some might argue that limiting someone to specific procedures could do so, while others think that guidance is just that, something to help you move along. What if a developer comes up with an idea to introduce a new tech stack? Maybe, yes, it could solve a problem faster in the short term, but more experienced developers could see possible pitfalls in the long run if they do this.
Yes, it’s a thin line between best practices and hard rules. But, let’s emphasize that Golden Paths are not there to put limitations on your work. They are there to introduce everyone to the company’s culture, technology, and procedures. Such paths are not set in stone. Oh, no. It’s the flexibility and adaptation that are the main characteristics. As time progresses, the company will change, technologies will evolve, and new guidances will need to be set.
Golden Paths can actually stimulate creativity. If standard tasks can be performed more efficiently and faster, there is more time for developers or people in other roles to develop new ideas, see room for improvement, potentiate change, and contribute to the Golden Path itself. Let’s not look at a Golden Path as a hard unyielding rule, but rather as a side helper (but not like the widely hated Clippy).
We can imagine such paths as bricklaying and building something. You need to have a strong foundation. You need to know how to properly stack those bricks or your whole structure will fall apart. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t boost your creativity on other tasks. No one is forced to adopt a Golden Path if it doesn’t fulfill their need or help them in any way.
The uphills and downhills of Golden Paths
Okay, as with anything in life, there are benefits and drawbacks of Golden Paths. Not everything that shines is gold (yes, we’re kicking it up with puns). So the best way to do this is to see what they bring to the table, and what potential downsides or traps are there.
Minimized knowledge silos
With Golden Paths, knowledge sharing is not only encouraged, it’s almost mandatory. By creating step-by-step guidebooks, other developers or team members (depending on the Golden Path purpose) share their knowledge and insights on how to do something most efficiently. Documentation, guides, technology, advice, and how-to’s all serve to minimize time to search for answers and to basically promote, let’s call it, knowledge democratization. This way you won’t have individuals hoarding knowledge and keeping it from others.
Golden Paths in development showcase how something can be done more efficiently and faster. This way, development moves at a much faster pace, and developers can finish their tasks way more quickly and optimally. Finished products or software get pushed out to market sooner, and everything moves more smoothly. If some common operations are standardized, they can be implemented and done in no time.
Lesser dependencies on others
One thing Paths have covered, and want to minimize, is constantly asking others for help. They cover possible scenarios and questions, so you won’t have to spend a lot of time chasing other team members to help you. The goal is to have everything at your fingertips from start to finish. One rule of Golden Paths is if you want to steer away from the path, don’t expect the support of others. If you want to explore, be sure that you’ll have to fix issues on your own. You have to stand behind your choices.
Faster knowledge exchange
As said above, Paths are there to speed up knowledge sharing. Since they need to be constantly updated, there are no moments where some knowledge is clustered and available only to some. Centralized repositories like Golden Paths are almost like a library. You need a piece of information, you go there, search for it, and voila, there’s your answer.
Standardization was once reserved for jobs that required the same action over and over, like production. But now it can be used in certain tasks in a wide range of jobs. Now, you don’t have to think so hard about how to do something, you have it all outlined with best practices.
Fostering collaboration and mutual contribution
If Golden Paths don’t foster collaboration and mutual contribution, then what does?! Yes, a certain Golden Path can be assigned to one person, but for the best results, multiple people should cooperate on creating one. Getting input from people who will use it is imperative in creating the best one that will bring value.
Avoiding technical debt
If technologies and procedures are defined, you are already creating a framework that will stop anyone from creating technical debt, since the best solutions are provided in the Path. If developers don’t veer off the Path too often and don’t introduce unsustainable technologies, there will be no opportunities or traps to create technical debt. However, if there is a legacy code and residual technical debt, Golden Path can be created to deal with those issues as well.
But, not everything is perfect and golden (see, we’re still killing it with bad puns). There is always a downside to everything. Golden Paths might seem like the perfect solution, and they are, but what if we take them too far?
Can you overstandardize something? Yes, you can. If you put down strict rules on how to do something, you can destimulate creativity and shift priority to always doing things by the book. And when was the last time when a great innovation was born out of doing everything by the rules and preconceived ideas?! Golden paths should be flexible and they are not created to standardize every single thing.
As time goes on, so does the technology, your company, and your people. Golden Paths requires its creators or contributors to keep up with trends and updates. Every time you introduce something new, it should be recorded in the Golden Path. The worst thing you can do is make one and let it sit. No. It should be updated with the newest happening and other employees’ recommendations on how to improve it. You want to avoid making it obsolete at all costs.
Prioritizing short term over long term
You don’t create a Golden Path just for now or just for the beginning of the project. Think long term not short term. They are not here to fix immediate issues but to anticipate future requirements and problems as well. Paths aren’t just for day one or initial setup, they are for the whole upcoming development or any other sort of project.
To follow the yellow brick road or not?
It is not an easy or impulsive decision to create a Golden Path. You will need resources and the need, of course, to develop one. For bigger companies and projects, Golden Paths might be a great solution when you’re building big products that need to be done a certain way and in a certain time frame.
But, don’t be fooled. It’s not easy to create one and you probably won’t get everything right on the first try. Golden Paths are complex and ongoing projects that require attention. Before diving deep into one, be aware of what is exactly required and what you have to do. Also, make sure you have people on your team who are willing and competent to create great sustainable Golden Paths.
One might argue that Paths will introduce rigidity among your teams. You might be afraid they will kill creativity and innovativeness. But, remember, they save and allocate time for higher-value tasks. They provide more time slots for bigger and more creative activities. It’s a way to stimulate growth and provide support for anyone coming onto the project or entering the company. Look at them as tutorials for success, rather than rules.