Just is just a word

How often, when you’re already busy, has soemobe walked up to your desk and said “can you just do <xyz> please?”

The word “just” implies so much. the implication is that what you’re being asked to do is a small amount of work, that it won’t take long and that it won’t affect the other jobs you’re trying to get done.

These assumptions belong solely to the person who is doing the asking and it straight away leads to a defensive response. If the response is that you’re too busy or that it will take too long the requestor has already implied that this is a failing on your part simply by using thr word “just”.

Now I will admit to be guilty saying “just” in exactly that context on a number of occasions and it’s only now that I’ve started to examine the repercussions a little more.

Many of you are probably thinking that you use that word all the time and don’t mean anyting by it but, ask yourselves if indeed it has no meaning why is it not superfluous?

What’s the difference between asking some to “do this please” and asking someone to “just do this please”?

I suppose the main thrust of this blog is really mindfulness. As  the requestor you may think that a task is minor and won’t take long but there are many reasons why this may not be true for the person on the receiving end of the request. Maybe that person is just not as experienced as you – it may take them longer but they’ll never become more experienced without being allowed to try. Maybe their skills lie in other areas – have you got the right person for the job? Maybe you haven’t given it enough though and are “just” underestimating the task as hand? Maybe you simply don’t have the knowledge to be able to understand what’s involved – ever thought this may be your own shortcoming and not someone else’s?

When you’re handing an unexpected task to someone, walk a mile in their shoes and don’t assume or imply to them that this is a small task – let them make that judgement themselves. More importantly let them tell you if they don’t have the capacity to do it, sometimes no is the right answer.

Agile talks about responding to change but it also has important rules around short term planning and allowing those short terms plans to be completed.

There comes a point when people have to be allowed to complete what they have started. If you interrupt someone with a “just do this” task, what’s to say they won’t be interrupted again by someone else’s “just do this” task until eventually they’ve started a lot of stuff but can never actually finish anything.

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Trigger’s Broom

Some of you (especially those from the UK) may remember the Trigger’s Broom scene from the classic TV show Only Fools and Horses. Trigger claims he’s been using the same broom for 20 years but then states that it’s had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in it’s time.

Some of the more philosophically aware among you may recognise this as Theseus’ paradox or the Ship of Theseus. The question of course being – does an object which has had all its compnent parts replaced remain fundamentally the same object?

What am I talking about you may well ask? Well, whatever your take on this particular paradox there is certainly a way we can apply this to the idea of teams and their agile maturity.

Consider a team of 5 who are developing a product. They are all new to this agile business but very much bought into the principles. After a period of intensive mentoring they begin to display all the correct behaviours and, as such, demonstrate marked improvements over time in their delivery frequency, quality of delivery and general productivity, not to mention team motivation and morale.

This team become, in fact, so good that they are soon completely autonomous (within the constraints and scope of their specified objectives) and are soon left to their own devices. The proof of their ability is, afterall, apparent in the satisfaction of their customers and the quality of their product.

At some point, for no specific reason, one of the team members leaves and is replaced. Shortly after this the team lead is moved over to take on a struggling project and a new team lead bought in. Two out of five of the original team have gone. Perhaps then a further team member is also swapped out for someone else. Now the balance has shifted and less than half the original members remain. There is no guarantee that these new guys are bought in to the god behaviours displayed by the original team but because the “team” has always been so successful they are left to continue with no intervention.

At what point is this team no longer the original, successful, established team? At what point should someone intervene to ensure the new team members understand and can adopt the previously ingrained behaviours?

If this is now a “different” team should it be treated as such and be given the attention and support that any brand new team would be when forming and establishing it’s practices?

If nothing is done until the effects are seen in a drop in quality or productivity then this is too late. At that point the bad habits have already crept in and, it’s a lot easier to give up biting your nails if you never started in the first place.

Trigger’s broom was not the same broom and a team where the majority or all of the team members have changed over time is not the same team. The onus is on good management to recognise the implications of these changes and ensure new members are introduced to the team’s proven ways of working, behaviours and culture from the moment they join the team.

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What’s all this about then ?

Hello world. I am consultant working for Ivar Jacobson International as an agile mentor, this is my public blog and these are my public thoughts, musings, rants, raves and questions.  Some will be about Agility, some will be about people, some will be about software. All will be my own personal thoughts and opinions on all kinds of subjects. I welcome feedback and comments be it bad or good. Life should be a conversation – please converse 🙂

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