In a social media discussion in mid-2019, several people expressed surprise at the idea that Scrum might include “overhead.” The confusion seemed genuine. Some people asked for examples. It seemed they were unable to conceive of “overhead” in Scrum.
The popularity of Scrum has led to an interesting situation in the Agile community. Many people view Scrum as The Answer. It’s the only and best way. There is no possibility to improve beyond Scrum. Everything in Scrum is valuable by definition.
In reality, every process includes overhead. We do things for customers/users, and we also do things to position ourselves to do things for customers/users. When we don’t distinguish between the two, we can fall into the trap of trying to perfect our overhead activities, rather than minimize them.
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In Howard Myers’ 1972 short story, “Out, Wit!” physicist Jonathan Willis discovers the secret of alchemy, and publishes a paper describing how to make gold. Unfortunately for him, he writes the paper in an ironic style that leads people not to take it seriously. Making things worse, his work contradicts the prevailing wisdom in the scientific community, and senior researchers shut him down.
No one takes Willis’ paper seriously…except the Russians. They understand English well enough to comprehend the content of the paper, but not well enough to understand the humor in it. They return to the USSR, where they apply the techniques described in the paper to produce large quantities of gold, which they use to collapse the capitalistic economies of their enemies.
The common language of work
In the global economy of the 21st century, English has become the de facto common language for international scientific and academic exchange, business, and technical work. It’s the official corporate language in many international companies. It’s the practical working language for software teams that include members from different countries.
The situation sounds like an automatic “win” for native English speakers. We already know the global language of business. We don’t have to overcome that barrier to be effective in international work – conferences, user group meetings, training classes, working in multinational companies – all doors are open for us.
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There’s been some online chatter recently about an old topic – the need for uninterrupted focused work time when doing software development. Some of the comments have surprised me, in part because I thought it was a settled topic. That was silly of me, because of course there are no settled topics.
But it surprised me, as well, because some of the comments suggested a fundamental misunderstanding of how creative work is done: Some people treat creative work the same as repetitive tasks, such as sweeping the floor or washing the dishes, in that they assume creative work can be interrupted over and over again without any cost.
Continue reading What’s the cost of interrupting developers?