[Oldletter #14] Undifferentiated heavy lifting, Vertical vs horizonal thinking, and The Tiny MBA

Every Friday, I’m sharing a short list of evergreen articles/resources broadly related to software engineering that wouldn’t typically get shared in most tech newsletters or social media feeds.


  • Identifying Undifferentiated, Heavy Lifting (2019) by Stephen Kuenzli. “Undifferentiated, heavy lifting” is a phrase bandied about a lot, particularly in the cloud space. In this piece, Stephen explains how to uncover it using a Wardley Mapping worked example, ultimately in service of understanding how value is being delivered in a software system.

    Every product adopted by customers provides value in some way. That value is provided by a system of components and people (aka entities) that have responsibilities ranging from the application used directly by a customer to the object store where that customer’s data is persisted. Each of those entities must fulfill their current responsibilities or delivery of customer value is impacted.

  • Vertical vs Horizontal Thinking (2012) by James Hughes. Why entrusting developers with end to end vertical feature slices makes adapting to change much easier.

    …there is one very fundamental reason vertical is better. Working and thinking vertically allows you to create a shippable product early. It’s not all done, far from it. It probably looks like ass as well but still it’s usable enough to get the job done, right?

  • The Tiny MBA (book) (2020) by Alex Hillman. This one’s more about product (and business) building than software engineering but it’s one of the most evergreen things I’ve read. It list out 100 long-game principles and anecdotes in a uniquely tiny format. It’s one of the very few physical books I’ve bought in recent years and dip into regularly.

Submitting your recommendations

If you’d like to share an evergreen article/book which has significantly influenced your thinking or practice around software delivery, please email it through to me and I’ll add it to my backlog for sharing in future editions.

Have a great weekend!

— Paul

Join daily email list

I publish short emails like this on building software with serverless on a daily-ish basis. They’re casual, easy to digest, and sometimes thought-provoking. If daily is too much, you can also join my less frequent newsletter to get updates on new longer-form articles.

    View Emails Archive

    Free Intro Call

    Book a free 30-minute introduction call with me to see how I can help your team with serverless.

    Select a time for our call

    🛫 Serverless Launchpad

    Ready to start building your new AWS serverless project but need help with getting everything setup?

    The Serverless Launchpad is a done-for-you DevOps service installed in under a week. You get a leading-practice multi-account AWS environment, a scaffolded codebase and architecture including the common AWS serverless services, isolated cloud environments for individual developers, automated delivery pipelines right through to production and much more. Everything is IaC, extensively documented and handed over to your developers.

    Learn more >>