Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The BS Line

Consider that everyone has in their mind a fuzzy line:

On the left side of the line is what we like to call "the real work" (abbreviation: RW). It's what we get to do. It's the value we provide to the world. It is usually about 30-40% of the work we do, which pays homage to Gall's observation about the inefficiency of human systems.

The stuff to the right of the line is what we call "bureaucratic silliness" (abbreviation: BS).  It is the stuff we have to do.  These are things we do out of obligation (when reminded), or to satisfy the internal "process police."

These things feel like nonsense that we have to deal with because that's the price of being a developer, tester, manager, whatever we consider ourselves to be.

The Difference

We tend to take on Real Work happily and go right to it. It allows us to practice and pursue the skills that define who we are in the workplace. They further the goals of the company, the customer, and our career ambitions (if any). They are why we come to work.

The Real Work directly adds value to the products we make and to our colleagues with whom we make it.

The real work is what we "get to do."

The Bureaucratic Silliness is assigned to us, and we are obliged to comply. It does not seem to further the useful skills we value, but may require us to build additional skills and habits in order to fulfill expectations.

The BS is a set of formalities that we feel do not provide value to us or to our teammates, though some of it is valued by some remote group within the business.

The BS is what we "have to do"

How to Tell

Nobody loves filling out timesheets, but we're expected to account for the time, so we'll get around to it. We tend to delay BS in hopes that we'll run out of time for it, which is fine since the Real Work is done.

So don't ask us what we value. We may give the "acceptable face" and say "yes, I know it's important, but I forgot" or "I ran out of time" or "I'll get to that right away." We will tell you how important the standup meeting or the documentation is because it's clearly important to you and there's no reason to be confrontational about it (see what team players we are?).

Instead, look at what we dive into and what we avoid. We will order our lives and our days by the things that give us a sense of value and purpose. The things we put off are the things we don't really want to do; we put off the BS.

So What?

Which items are on the left (RW) and which on the right (BS)?

  • Testing 
  • Code reviews 
  • Collaboration
  • Integration 
  • Delivery/Deployment
  • Documentation
  • User Feedback
  • Bugs
  • Expense Reports
  • Time Reporting

You might be surprised to find out which items are on which side of your line, and what/who keeps them there.

If your people are racing through the code and then doing code reviews and testing after, then you know that coding is RW to them, and the rest is BS that they are willing to sacrifice.

You can try to convince them, or demand more obligatory compliance, but you'll always find that until something has alignment (provides value for everyone) it will be at best a nuisance to the people who are trying to do the Real Work.

An older touch on this...

See this old blog about "collateral effort."

Hear this discussed with other experts!

On Matt Huesser's podcast we talked through this idea, as well as the idea of informative workspaces v. distractive ones. 

From the Horse's Mouth:

You can see my lightning talk -- it's just 4 minutes, but maybe will help to hear me speak it:


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