What clients never understand…
November 17, 2006, 2:30 pm
Filed under: guide to life, marketing

Brilliant explanation of the opportunity cost of little fixes that will take “only two hours” (at Agile Advice via Joelonsoftware):

“It just takes 2 hours. It can’t hurt!”
It can. We development managers learned it the hard way. We know how programmers think. We know how expensive switching their context is. If Sarah spends just two hours thinking of her old project, she loses a day of productive work on the new one. One day is 10% of a carefully planned iteration wasted if she spends 2 hours sidetracked.In the wild nature of software development shops, however, it never takes 2 hours. 2 hours is the time Sarah is on the phone trying to clarify the problem. 2 hours is the time she is waiting for this phone call, reluctant to get into anything serious. 2 hours is the time Sarah is tweaking her development environment to build her old project. 2 hours is the time Sarah is spending to see if she can come up with a very restricted workaround. 2 hours is the time Sarah is on another phone call, explaining the potential workaround. Not enough time for real solution, no time spent on actually resolving the problem. 10 hours of unplanned and unproductive time is spread out over 3 days. 30% of iteration wasted.

At this point the planning goes down the toilet. The iteration is dead. The new project is slipping late. The rush around the old project yields little results either: with no time for a real solution the best bet there is a quick and dirty fix.

But the harm goes further. Sarah was eager to spend time on programming – she wasted it. She is robbed of her professional satisfaction, the good feeling of achieving the iteration goal and releasing project on time. On the next iteration planning session Sarah can’t help thinking “Why kill time if we don’t stick to the plan anyways?” The team gets the message: “We are NOT seriously doing iterative development. We are going ad-hoc”.

Guide to life: We are all prisoners of our experience
October 7, 2006, 2:28 am
Filed under: guide to life, Uncategorized

I am liking Peggy Noonan these days. And not just because she’s confirming one of my central principles of decisionmaking: we are all prisoners of our own experience. She illustrates this twice in one column (in today’s WSJ), two sides of the Bushies’ coin: they had no combat experience, but did have experience listening to State Dept. drones:

“…I have come to give greater credence to the importance, in the age of terror, among our leaders, of having served in the military. For you need personal experience that you absorbed deep down in your bones, or a kind of imaginative wisdom that tells you even though you were never there what war is like, what invasion is…”


“…Here I add something I have been thinking about the past year. It is about the young guys at the table in the Reagan era. The young, midlevel guys who came to Washington in the Reagan years were always at the table in the meeting with the career State Department guy. And the man from State, timid in all ways except bureaucratic warfare, was always going “Ooh, aah, you can’t do that, the Soviet Union is so big, Galbraith told us how strong their economy is, the Sandinistas have the passionate support of the people, there’s nothing we can do, stop with your evil empire and your Grenada invasion, it’s needlessly aggressive!” Those guys from State — they were almost always wrong. Their caution was timorousness, their prudence a way to evade responsibility. The young Reagan guys at the table grew up to be the heavyweights of the Bush era. They walked into the White House knowing who’d been wrong at the table 20 years before. And so when State and others came in and said, “The intelligence doesn’t support it, we see no WMDs,” the Bush men knew who not to believe.

History is human.”