@johncutlefish's blog

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Now That Would Be Bad…

Published: October 19, 2017

You hear a collective gasp. “Check Slack,” a coworker mumbles.

  • GitHub will be down for the next three weeks
  • Half of the team called out sick for the next month
  • Expect power to be intermittent for the next six months. Back up your work regularly
  • Yesterday, we lost 50% of our developers with >3y tenure at the company. They will be unavailable to do handoffs
  • Rent at headquarters has tripled
  • Our main competitor tripled their marketing budget, and slashed prices by 50%
  • The main elevator will be closed for repairs (indefinitely)
  • Due to the slowdown, we have been forced to make multiple acquisitions to close the revenue gap
  • 20% of our customers will experience an outage tomorrow Sounds terrible, right? Imagine the reaction.

But here’s what’s fascinating. Organizations routinely do this kind of economic damage to themselves by not investing in resiliency, quality, tooling, infrastructure, and employee retention.

The damage is typically not this abrupt. But the cumulative impacts over time are. The rational argument here is that “we’ll monitor things very carefully and adapt when we need to.” This makes perfect sense, but is hard to do in practice. Why? It’s hard (see normalization of deviance, present bias, organizational entropy, etc.) Short term benefits are just too salient and most prioritization techniques are too biased towards short-term thinking. And finally, these things are rarely linear.

Before you know it, the whole operation grinds to a standstill.

This is where premortems, ritual dissent, stop-the-line approaches, and reserving a % of capacity for quality (even when it feels counterintuitive) really shine.

The next time someone challenges you about investing in quality, change the frame to talking about what the business would look like if R&D capacity was drastically reduced. Use (albeit) dramatic and unrealistic short-term examples to trigger a meaningful conversation about realistic long term impacts.