Well, this is embarrassing. A few weeks ago I slipped on my bike. I usually cycle to work and on that one soggy morning I took a turn too sharp and slid over some rough ground. With a few cuts and grazes I got myself into the office, patched the knee up and got on with my day.
A few days later I bumped into Richard, another cyclist in the office. We exchanged the recent stories and the usual: “the rain today is actually not that bad, there is no wind”. I mentioned my fall and he reflected on how this usually causes us to get more cautious, more careful and effectively slower.
I would have probably ignored this remark. I’m not really a fast cyclist. I even stopped recording my rides on Strava, so that Dan doesn’t get to see how clumsy I am. But this was the time of the Sochi Olympics and I was well into the snowboarders and the skiers hurling down mountains at insane speeds. I thought about these athletes, and their accidents of which there were a fair few.
I realised that it’s not that they are so good that they never fall or make no mistakes. Perhaps they are so good because, despite the accidents, they don’t slow down but get up and go at even greater speeds. They have learnt to accept the occasional falls, scratches and bruises as an inevitable part of their life. As a stepping stone to the podium.
Back to the office then, how does this relate to software teams?
Naturally we also make our mistakes, we write code which is imperfect and every now and then we release a defect into production which causes a lesser or greater incident. Very often these are subjected to great scrutiny, a postmortem perhaps or at least a thorough retrospective. Inevitably what follows, in many organisations, is a more stringent release process, a tightening of the rules and a general slow-down of the development efforts. We want to make absolutely sure that a similar thing doesn’t happen again, ever.
Looking at the Olympians we could perhaps adopt a slightly different approach.
Instead of focusing on total elimination of any mishaps we could instead accept them as an inevitable part of the race to the finish. We could ensure that when they happen, we minimise the impact and we get up as quickly as possible. That we continue on the path take with refreshed vigour to make sure we stay ahead of the race.
The challenge is not to not make mistakes, it’s to not let them slow us down.