Pushing back – lean thinking

Sumo Konishiki by Raymond Kennedy 2009

Photo by Raymond Kennedy 2009

It’s a very hard thing, telling your CTO you think he or she is wrong – but it’s worth it!

Let me tell you a little story – of a time I told someone he was wrong, did the right thing, and where we are now.

Once upon a time, there was a developer called Alex. He was quite short, not terribly adventurous as developers go, but capable. Here’s Alex, developing a little feature to go on the website. Hello Alex. Alex is happy, because the feature he’s developing is rather useful, and will earn the company money – we know because this feature was tested first, and it did these things when we tested it. Alex likes this. Alex likes that it’s good all round and he especially likes that we already know that.

But what’s this? Alex’s CTO has sent him an e-mail, with some changes to the component that haven’t been tested, whether or not they are the right thing. See Alex get sad. See Alex cry. See Alex think. Think, Alex, think. “How can we do this?” thinks Alex. Oh Alex. Poor Alex. See Alex go home, dejected.

Good morning Alex, I hear you say. “Good morning” moans Alex, and droops. Alex is feeling awfully sorry for himself. Good morning, say the Analysts. Ooh, hello Analysts. I bet you’d have something to say about this.

The analysts do have something to say about this.

What do the analysts say? They say “We should measure that”. They’re right, we should measure this. It might make things worse, not better. We haven’t measured this, so we don’t know. Why should we do this if we don’t even know if it will be good for the company? Will it be good for the users? “No, it won’t do the users any good or harm” mopes Alex.

Oh no Alex, moping doesn’t get it done. You know that, Alex.

Alex, you don’t think this is the right thing to do right now. You need to do the right thing, Alex.

But what’s the right thing to do?

You’re asking the wrong question, Alex. You need to ask “Should we do this?”. Always ask this. You’re asking the wrong people, Alex. Who told you to do this? They are the ones you should ask. Ask “Where is the value?”. There’s no point doing it if it’s not valuable.

Alex thinks some more.

Alex comes to a conclusion.

Then Alex tells his CTO “I don’t think this will have the effect you hope for”
Alex asks “Why should we do this?”

And they talk.

And they finally agree.

They agree that there is a better reason to do this, in a slightly different way, which will be a technical improvement and will support work they need to do.

They agree that another team will do the bulk of the work.

Alex still isn’t happy that this is being pushed in right now. Alex has had to compromise, but Alex feels he has done the right thing, and Alex feels the company is doing the right thing.
So you see, a happy ending of sorts. What do you think?

I was lucky, or unconsciously canny, I didn’t tell my CTO he was wrong directly or publicly. That wouldn’t have helped. But I questioned the value, and found it, and because the company are doing the right thing for the right reason, we can do a better job. So I’m happy enough.

Thanks for reading,

You might be interested in reading “Fear is Waterfall”