Like the Back of My Hand: Doing What You Know…Everywhere, or, Life Imitates Software

A while ago I wanted to start up an Etsy shop.  I had no idea what to do, as I am quite crafty but equally unfocused.  People told me “just do what you know.”  So I started making Beatles shot glasses and pint glasses (in case you don’t know me, I am disturbingly into The Beatles.  Thanks to all of you who do know me for putting up with it).  They sold pretty well and I had a great time making them.  It was easy.

When I wanted to start blogging, I had no idea what to write about.  People told me “just write what you know.”  Had to think about that one for a while before the first few blogs came out.  But the next ones were easy; usability issues are everywhere and even jokes made me think about software process issues.  All I had to do was look around and observe things and the answers were in front of me, because I knew them.  It was easy.

The point I’m getting at here is that these things were easy once I realized all I had to do was what I knew, and what I do on a daily basis.

The real point I’m getting at here is that this is obvious.  Doing what you know is easy.  Doing what you do on a daily basis is easy.  What reason is there not to adapt your life processes to your software processes?  Things that are second nature to you should present few problems in being applied to your software (though your team may take some convincing).  Really, it’s just a good way to figure out what is wrong on your team (or in your life) and figure out how easy it is to fix it.  Here is a small quiz about life and software development:

Scenario 1: You and your special someone have a miscommunication.  Do you:

a) Let it fester until the resentment has built up so much between you that you’re doing that “get the jelly, twat” joke in the middle of Publix but it’s even less funny than when Dane Cook did it

b) Talk it out until you are on the same page so that there is no tension and so that you can better handle similar situations in the future

If you said A, yer doin it wrong.  In the sense of literal communication, you need to be sure to discuss issues to keep the pair relationship and team relationship healthy.  Having a lot of tension between team mates can create not only a very unpleasant environment (for everyone), but will produce shittier code and probably mess up your velocity/cycle time (just because you’re is not functioning well as a team).  Keep your relationships healthy with communication (see: some other blog I wrote).  In the sense of letting things fester, ignoring problems or not resolving them right away is a fast way to fail.  Your system will get buggier and worse the longer you go without fixing bugs as they come up.  Fix problems as problems occur to prevent this kind of crap from happening.  If you said B, congratulations!; that was the right answer.  When pairing, dating, or even just working as a team, I find that JIT retrospectives are the way to go.  To me this doesn’t necessarily mean sit down after each feature is developed and deeply discuss every good and bad thing that has happened, but it does mean that during a weekly demo (or whatever form of that you do) you should talk about how things are going.  Iteratively handling situations will help you to grow closer rather than apart, and you will learn (in either scenario) much faster how to handle the situation as it arises and improve upon it from there.  We used scrum for a while and the daily stand-ups kind of handled this, but we really didn’t need to do it daily; it just ended up being wasteful.  Handling issues just in time at our weekly demos has proven immensely helpful to us; I recommend giving it a shot.  The big retrospective at the end still has value, but you might not even need it if you’re handling things as they come.

Scenario 2: You and your sweetie are planning a vacation to a secret remote tropical location.  Do you:

a) Plan out every detail far in advance and set a very strict itinerary

b) Keep a list of the items you want to do and set general ideas about when to do them

Why does A fail?  Rain.  Exhaustion from climbing a mountain the prior day.  Being hung over from a dastardly amount of rumrunners.  Whatever.  There are too many outside variables that you won’t know if you plan too far in advance.  Option B allows for plenty of change, and a more relaxing time.  Sure, you may need to set some things in stone if they are only available at certain times/on certain days, but for the most part keeping it easy will afford you a better vacation.  Change is a constant, so it is really the only thing you can plan for and ensure that those plans will work out.  JIT planning of your activities will ensure that you are always doing what you want to do next rather than what has been decided as your next item; JIT planning of your stories and priorities will allow room for change and make sure that the next thing you’re working on is the next actual priority.  Now, here I am kind of a liar, because I sure do like to make a good itinerary if the occasion should arise.  But I’ve fallen prey to all of the above downfalls I listed for A (especially the hangover), and also I’ve had great opportunities come up while I was on vacation that bumped other things off the list.  And they were worth it.  So I’m going to try out approach B for the next super secret remote island getaway I plan because I know it will work.  Because it works on my team.  These things, they go both ways.  Get it?

I could probably go on with more scenarios but a) your eyes might glaze over b) I think this is a good start.  Think about things you do and the way you effectively handle situations in your everyday life.  How can you apply these to the way you work, your processes, your team environment in general?  Are you working in a way that is contrary to the way you naturally work?  If so, why?  Start paying attention to things like this and see if you can find ways to improve by doing more of the same, but in a different area of your life.  All you have to do is look around and observe things and the answers are in front of you, because you know them.

1 comment so far

  1. […] I had to do was write what I knew.  My colloquial voice calmed down a little (read: barely) as I got more comfortable with […]

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