December 1, 2015 Leave a comment
Like most developers, I have a couple of non-profits that I’ve supported for many years (see here, and here). When I first met these folks, Kip and Fran, dinosaurs roamed the earth and their professional home was paying tens of thousands of dollars annually in maintenance contracts for their Wang word processors. That’s how long ago it was – Wang was a thing. The progression of that relationship, and how it compares to my paid work has taught me a lot.
One of the things I learned is that, it’s not your enemies that will get you, it’s your friends. I spent the first few years bemoaning the performance, or lack thereof, of some of the volunteers Fran roped into helping her. I was in the process of evolving into a Scrum fanatic and the behavior of volunteers drove me straight up a tree. They delivered, they half-delivered, they showed up … or not – crazy-making stuff.
Then it was my turn. I committed to a task (now forgotten – I wonder how that happened?) and dropped it completely. I’m sure I had an excuse and it may not even have been lame. But the job was on my plate, they waited for me, and it went undone. When I realized what had happened it struck me almost instantly that for Fran at least, her friends were way more dangerous than her enemies. I’m sure Fran was thinking “Duh – volunteers.” but to me it was light dawning over Marblehead.
At the same time that particular light dawned over Marblehead, I was coaching, forming and scrum-mastering a number of Scrum teams. At standups, over and over again I’d have this little exchange with one or more team members:
Team member: I’m waiting for X
Team member: Ummmm
I started looking closely at the “waiting” phenomenon and realized that the waiting impediment always fell into one of these buckets:
- Waiting for someone to do something
- Waiting for a purchase
- Waiting for an external deliverable
I also realized that the waiting was 99% bullshit. I started asking people “why didn’t you do it yourself?”. Magically, half those impediments disappeared without my doing anything more than arching an eyebrow and asking a simple question. The Scrum principle being served is
Incentivize cross-training, de-incentivize specialization/siloing.
Waiting for a purchase? Buy it. Put it on the company credit card and fight with accounting later. What are they going to do, fire you? Many times, I bought stuff on my own nickel just to “not wait”. Abusing the corporate credit card became a foundational principle of the group and I got most of those personal nickels back in the end too.
Waiting for an external deliverable? Split the story, finish the half that can be done and put the dependent half on the product backlog. That makes it the Product Owner’s problem, not yours. And that means it’ll go away because the PO has way more juice than you do, and his ass gets fired if the product doesn’t happen not yours.
People realized quickly that reporting a status of “waiting for X” would lead to an awkward standup moment, so they got proactive and started bringing them to me asynchronously. And the group went faster.
Eventually I just told people,
Don’t wait for anyone or anything.
It was that simple. If you’re building stuff for me, you don’t wait for anything. Call it Rodley’s First Law of Getting Stuff Done.
As I worked with more and more concept-stage entrepreneurs I realized that they needed the First Law of GSD even more than I did as Scrum Master of a team of builders. Waiting is death for startups.
When you wait, you’re wasting the only resource that you can’t replenish – time. Mark Suster addresses this indirectly here when he says
In a startup market the biggest competition is inertia
Waiting is inertia. Stop it.