Problems that can happen - we have always done it that way!

The more businesses and development organisations I work with, the more I see common problem “themes”. In this series of articles I am trying to highlight the problems and show the potential solutions to some of these common symptoms.

When I visit companies to help them with software development I end up asking a lot of questions - often finding myself sounding like an annoying 5 year old child just repeating the word "Why?" in response to every answer! When I get down to responses like "because we have always done it that way" or "that’s' just the way we do it" then I know the way things are being done needs to be reviewed. It's like a smell - if we haven't thought about something we are doing for so long that it becomes second nature, how can we be sure it is still valuable or relevant?

In software development when we are trying to improve something (or to generally be innovative) failures and mistakes are seen as a necessary part of the process of working out what's right. The path to the successful solution is comprised of a series of small mistakes and failures from which we learn, adapting the solution as we go. I often find that development teams neglect applying this practice to the way they build software. If we take to be fact that nobody is perfect, and that things can always be improved - then it's OK to make mistakes and it's OK to get things wrong. What's not OK is to repeat the same mistakes ad infinitum!

I like the metaphor of friction when looking at issues in the development process, friction holding us back and slowing down our delivery vehicle!

Friction can be felt anywhere from the initial idea right through to running in production, and friction may be felt in one part of the process but caused elsewhere. I think it is easiest to spot (and fixing has the greatest gain) in the things we do regularly - like deployment. Teams I have worked with have "got used" to the process of creating builds and deployment taking days. It's obviously never that hard!

No matter how you are building software this is why taking time to "inspect" what we do so that we can make small adjustments toward continuous improvement is so important. Take time to note what you do, how long it takes, what feels productive, what’s frustrating etc. Reflect over this as a team and honestly question and evaluate what you do and how. Don’t be afraid to try and make small changes, measure the effect and adjust as necessary – removing friction makes you faster. Don't just do things "'cos that's what we do" - think and reflect – it *may* still be the right way, but there may be a better way. The world doesn't stand still so nor should we!

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