Management wants some quick wins, so we don’t have time to do proper analysis. We’d like to but, you know, unless you can show us some low-hanging fruit, we wouldn’t be able to embrace your approach.
A Polish person once told me a joke about communist Poland. There was a big building site and everyone was working at a nice, leisurely pace. Then some communist apparatchik arrived and wow, did the pace pick up. Everyone got real busy running around. The apparatchik decided to climb some scaffolding to get a better view. There he paused to look out over his wonderful busy workforce. He noticed one man with a wheelbarrow who was moving like a Formula One driver. Initially, he was very impressed by the man’s efforts, but then he noticed that the wheelbarrow was empty and that the man never stopped to fill it. The apparatchik climbed down and called out for the man to stop. The man screeched to a halt in front of the apparatchik, sweat pouring out of him.
“Comrade, I have been watching you,” the apparatchik said in a stern voice. The worker looked at the apparatchik in bewilderment. “You never fill the wheelbarrow.”
“Too busy to fill the wheelbarrow, comrade!” the man replied
I was reminded of this story as I watched an apparatchik from a very large organization boast about how he very much supported lean and agile design because it was great for moving fast, cutting costs and quick wins. The agile team grimaced as they watched in silence. Do we ever learn or are we cursed to repeat the same fundamental mistakes again and again?
You can sprint in the wrong direction. You can rush around aimlessly. You can be busy as hell. If we measure sprinting, if we measure rushing, if we measure busyness, then we will get lots of aimless, purposeless sprinting, rushing and busyness.
Much software design has for a long time been a features arms race. I sat in an office of one of the largest software creators in the world and asked why feature X was being created. “The competitor just launched a feature like this.” That was the reason. No real thinking, planning, researching. Just reaction. Speed. The world is cursed with speed; it’s a key driver of the climate crisis.
I was at this software company to deliver results of a Top Tasks measurement that showed that people found it very difficult to use the software because it was such a mangle of features. That the technical support information was woefully out of date. The technical writers knew this. There was nothing they could do. All their energy was focused on writing for the new features. Everyone was speeding down the road and as they hit more bumps the demand from management was to speed up.
We are deep in a culture where the most important thing is to be seen to be doing things, to be seen to be launching things, to be seen to be the quick winner. The career path in most large organizations is launch and leave, launch and leave, launch and leave. The more visible your production of stuff is, the more 30-second wow-factor it has, the faster your career will progress. In this world, it’s imperative to move on quickly because otherwise you’ll have to deal with the wreckage you’ve created.
Speed kills. It kills quality. It kills long-term thinking and planning. We must slow down.