Monday, August 20, 2012

Digging with spoons – the case against progress

Say you need to dig a big hole. Do you dig with a spoon or a shovel? Most progress-oriented developers would think “of course we use shovels”, but they continually get surprised when on their real projects the team still essentially digs with spoons. Why? How could someone possibly want to dig with a little spoon instead of a big shovel? Sure, I favor shovels, but I’ve seen over the years that people think very differently, and some people could offer lots of reasons to use spoons instead:
1.       We already have a spoon right now.
2.       It won't really take that long to dig with spoons.
3.       I used a spoon before; you should use a spoon to.
4.       Using a spoon teaches you how to dig, when I was in school they taught us to dig with spoons.
5.       Using a shovel is the lazy way out.
6.       A spoon gives you the granularity you need, you don't really know what you're digging if you have a shovel.
7.       The boss thinks spoons are better (that's how he did it back when he dug).
8.       If we switch to shovels now, that would be admitting we were wrong before.
9.       We need objective measurements (committees, score cards, analysis docs) to truly show if a shovel is better than a spoon.
10.   You’re just advocating using shovels because you read some blog about it.
11.   That big shovel is too heavy; spoons are lighter so we can dig faster.
12.   The shovel wasn’t built here.
13.   You’re not part of the process improvement team, so don’t worry about it.
14.   We’re already successful, so we don’t need to change how we do things.
15.   Well, I actually read that shovels are bad.
16.   Spoons were working fine before you got here.
17.   My last company used shovels, and they went out of business.
18.   Your attempt to change our process means that you’re not being a team player.
19.   Your job is to dig, focus on that.
20.   We can use spoons for now, and then use shovels later.
21.   Not everyone knows how to use shovels, and we can't afford the training costs right now.
22.   We’re under contract to use spoons.
23.   The boss’s boss is friends with a spoon manufacturer; we really ought to keep using spoons.
24.   Are you so special; is a spoon not good enough for you?
25.   If we use spoons, there won't be enough work to do and people will lose jobs.
26.   Our competitors use spoons (I heard), so we should be fine.
27.   Our competitors use shovels, so doing something different gives us a competitive advantage.
28.   This discussion of spoons vs. shovels is just a distraction from the real goal of digging.

Each of these brings to mind some analogy with some past software project where the “slow” way (i.e. spoons) was preferred. Part of empowering a team is to overcome this sort of thinking to show that it’s really in the team’s best interest to use shovels.