Time to live

Businesses who conduct any form of software development are increasingly “doing agile“. Typically this means they’ve replaced traditional waterfall project management within their “IT department” to probably Scrum or SAFe[1]For the sake of brevity I’m skipping over why SAFe is a step backwards and only entrenches problems. That’ll need a post all to itself., within smaller and larger orgs respectively.

A few people will go on a course, and on return set up a Jira / VSTS board, book a morning meeting titled “Stand Up”, and the release schedule is changed from Quarterly to Fortnightly overnight. On the surface, this is a step in the right direction[2]It isn’t..

If agility is a concept restricted to just your technical teams, and not your business as a whole, then you’re not actually “doing agile”.

A conversation I routinely have with friends, (ex)colleagues, and the like, is about how tired they are because of the level of extra effort required to affect change within their organisations. This is across all shapes and sizes, big/small, paid/voluntary, public/private.

The conversation will eventually meander through two topics:

  • How long it takes to make a change – start to finish? From concept, to delivery, not just development.
  • How much resistance occurs along the way? Do they feel that it is their own personal determination that makes change happen, instead of something which is embraced?

Complaining about work and feeling helpless isn’t new, and given that it is the plot for three of the biggest films of 1999 I’m not pretending like this is some sort of revelation. However, the frequency of answers[3]My sample is self-selecting because this conversation doesn’t come up in relation to organisations where the answers are “no time at all”, and “very little” being “a long time, could easily be a year or more“, and, “oh, so so much, I’ve given up more times than I’ve failed, let alone succeeded” coupled with the clear frustration expressed is something which leads me to believe that while this isn’t by any means rare, or novel, it’s actually an accepted, expected and purposefully constructed scenario by the organisation itself.

This is often done under the presumption that enough approvals and controls will ensure certainty of two things:

  1. Nothing bad will happen
  2. Only good things will happen

A fundamental aspect of doing agile is embracing uncertainty. To embrace uncertainty you need to be able to make changes quickly, and learn from them.

To make changes quickly, individuals need to be empowered with authority and responsibility delegated. They must be able to make meaningful change without arbitrary approvals and sign off. Equally, they must be responsible for the impact of those changes. That responsibility must be against quantitative targets, not subjective opinions. If they fail, they fail – now learn from it, and try again.

If your organisation can only do things quickly when the house is on fire, and you use executive authority to bypass red tape, then you have systemic issues which need to be addressed. Because if they aren’t, then you better be absolutely right in every decision you make, otherwise you’ll lose to a competitor who can move faster than you and found out the mistake long ago.

It can’t be left up to the determination of individuals.


1 For the sake of brevity I’m skipping over why SAFe is a step backwards and only entrenches problems. That’ll need a post all to itself.
2 It isn’t.
3 My sample is self-selecting because this conversation doesn’t come up in relation to organisations where the answers are “no time at all”, and “very little”


Sid Vicious couldn’t play bass, and only recorded parts of a single bass track on Never Mind the Bollocks.

Sandy Miranda can play bass, and in 2006 released a studio album, nine 7″s, three cassettes, and a CD.

Omar Rodríguez-López got bored of playing bass at 12, started playing everything you can imagine, and has written, released, and/or produced more music than I can possibly imagine.

Actually, that award goes to Buckethead.

Even so, the Sex Pistols are generally considered as one of the most influential British bands. Causing the formation of The Damned and The Clash (Paul Simonon also couldn’t play bass, at first) with both bands playing their first gigs as openers for the Sex Pistols. Then, as the apocryphal story goes, a gig at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 4th June 1976 had attendees who would end up founding Joy Division, The Fall, and The Smiths.

How does a band with a bassist who can’t play bass have an influence like that?

Or, a better question – how do have the confidence to join, or even start, a band when you can’t play an instrument?

Sid’s snarled expression helps, you just fucking do it. Because who’s stopping you?

A more restrained statement may be that everyone must start somewhere. Edin Blyton didn’t wake up one day and decide that she was going to write 762 (slightly problematic) books. $FamousFootballer wasn’t born being good at SportsBall. The chef’s on in the Michelin Guide didn’t go from microwave mini-pizzas to whatever it is Heston is doing right now I mean come on.

You may have a vague notion or hope that, some day, you’ll fill a room with your creations, but thinking that success is only that – and nothing else will do – will destroy you.

It is a rather trite statement, but you must see how perfect is the enemy of good, and that it’s actually much more important that you do the thing, rather than obsess over it.

That’s how you learnt every skill you have, and that’s how you’ll continue to improve. Oh, and you’re probably not destined for greatness, and that’s ok! Literally no one is! Again, something doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be worthwhile, or the right thing for you to do.

Even Sid Vicious got better overtime, and by the time he died was…alright? I guess. I mean, he wasn’t John Entwistle – but who is?

Don’t let perfection stop you. Don’t spend more energy talking yourself out of doing something than it would take to just do it.

Print that 7″, and move on.

Release, repeat.