Slow Down!

There’s a tweet that I saw recently, with some simple advice for novice programmers:

Slow down.

This is probably good advice for most programmers. Our team recently noticed that every time we try to rush things, we make mistakes. And the mistakes end up costing us more time than if we had just done things at our normal pace. Slowing down ensures that you do things right, and when you do things right, you end up with a higher-quality product.

Speed and Code Quality

There are 2 types of code quality: internal and external. External code quality can be measured by how many bugs have been reported by customers. Internal code quality is harder to measure, but it mainly deals with the ability to change the code. When your internal quality is low, you’ve got lots of technical debt, and it’s harder to make changes.

So when you try to write code quickly, code quality decreases, leading to a code base that takes more time to make changes to. Conversely, when you slow down, your code quality improves, and it becomes easier to make changes more quickly. So when writing code, slowing down in the short run leads to a speed-up in the long run.

Speed and Process Improvement

But writing code isn’t the only place where we try to speed up. On an Agile team, we’re always trying to improve the way we work — especially at the beginning stages of an Agile transformation. So we’re eager to make changes in our processes. But I’d urge you to slow down here as well.

My colleague Amos and I frequently argue over pair switching. It’s funny, because we agree on everything except for 1 small detail. We both think pair switching is very important, to ensure that team members see more of what’s going on, to bring more ideas to each story, to prevent knowledge silos, and to encourage team ownership. Where we disagree is how long an ideal pairing session should last. I think pairs should switch every 2 hours, and he thinks 1 hour is ideal. I’ve seen teams reach the 1 hour pairing sessions successfully. But usually not without some pain and even often failing at the first attempt.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with failing. But if you fail at something, you’re not likely to try again. After all, you should learn from your failures, right?

So if you want your team to do something, you probably don’t want them to fail at it. If they fail, they won’t want to try a second time. That’s just human nature, and learning from failure. While you might think that they failed because they weren’t ready for the change yet, they’ll most likely think that they failed because this particular change won’t work for their situation. And they probably won’t know what to change when trying again, so they won’t try again.

I’ve seen this over and over. Back when Linux was up-and-coming, when a consultant pushed a company into using Linux before they were ready for it, and it didn’t work out, that company was cautious about trying again. So instead of being on the leading edge of using Linux, or even the middle of the pack, they ended up more toward the trailing edge. Had they not been pushed, they would have gotten more benefit in the long run.

So my advice in process improvement is the same as in programming: slow down. Take small steps toward what you think is the ideal. Make a small change, see how it works out, and adjust. As long as you’re still moving in the right direction, I believe you’ll move faster by taking small steps than by trying to make big leaps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *