December 31st, 2011. 11:25PM MST:
For what seemed to be the 17 millionth time I was asked about my New Year's resolutions for 2012. Before I could summon up the energy for yet another foaming-at-the-mouth diatribe against the futility of this custom I realized that my mouth-foaming was sounding suspiciously familiar.
It's an exceedingly rare occurrence when you actually listen to your own rant. Was it the champagne that had elevated my consciousness to this rarified state? Or perhaps it was the euphoria of observing all of the lovely ladies in attendance at this party that had perfected the art and science of the "little black dress"? Whatever it was, it was working.
Here's what I heard when I actually started paying attention to my little rant:
A) New Years resolutions almost always fail
B) Why only make these life-altering changes once a year?
C) Even if you do make progress towards a resolution it is considered a failure if total success isn't achieved.
D) Resolutions are a conspiracy perpetrated by the fitness and weight loss military-industrial complex, which channels the funds gained from the brainwashed "Resolutionist" masses into advertising for fast food and big screen TV's, which in turn subvert yet more of the masses into their nefarious vicious consumerism cycle.
OK. I made that last one up. I really have to find a way to turn the channel when one of the cable stations plays a "Conspiracy Theory" movie marathon late at night
Anyway, if you look at the first three points, they seem awfully familiar to anyone that has been on big software projects, don't they? Let's take a closer look:
1) New Year's resolutions almost always fail = Big (as in budget and/or time to delivery) software projects almost always fail
2) Why only make these life-altering changes once a year = Why limit releases to once a year or so?
3) Progress towards a resolution is forgotten if the full resolution isn't achieved = New features/improvements implemented early sit unused until the whole release is delivered
The epiphany for me isn't some new insight into the software business (I'm sure some of the repeat visitors here would be shocked if I ever come up with some new insight into the software business).
No, the epiphany is in how we deal with our New Year's resolutions. Forget this dysfunctional "all or nothing" tradition we keep torturing ourselves with. Let's take a hint from the software business and do our New Years resolutions the Agile way.
Since we're talking about a team size of one, we can really strip Agile down to bare metal:
1) Iterate/deliver frequently
2) Reflect and adjust
Let's test this out. Say that under the old repressive regime of "Yearly Resolutions" I'd set a big goal for myself - such as learning how to become an Ultimate Pickup Artist (UPA). Although there is a strong romantic appeal to throwing myself into such a noble goal with abandon, what I'm really interested in is results. After all, what if I'm really not cut out to be an ultra-babe magnet?
With an Agile approach to my New Year's resolution of becoming an UPA, I now have an extensive toolbox of techniques and practices to bring to bear. One of the first I'd reach for is a little gem called "fail fast".
In this case, fail fast means two things. First, can I bear uttering inane pickup lines with a straight and sincere facial expression? Second, do I have what it takes to endure the wrath of women offended by lewd suggestions in pursuit of the small percentage that are either over-medicated or have otherwise taken leave of their senses to the point where they'd be smitten with a tawdry pickup line?
Right there is more than enough work for a first iteration. Assuming monthly iterations, the theme for January would be to "fail fast" and my work product would be to practice my pickup line delivery and insensitivity to criticism and/or physical assault. Heck, with a bit of careful planning I may even be able to work towards both goals at the same time.
By the end of January I'd have ample data to reflect on whether I'm socially and morally corrupt enough to be a truly stellar UPA.
If it seems I have what it takes, I'd be ready to take my next incremental steps in February towards my goal.
If not, I'll take comfort in the fact that I didn't waste a lot of time and energy in finding out that contrary to appearances, I do have some vestige of a conscience lurking somewhere and can instead focus on pursuing a more appropriate personal resolution, such as honing my gender sensitivity skills.
In conclusion, although you may not agree with my choice of resolutions, you can't argue with success. If you really want to make those New Year's resolutions permanent, you gotta go Agile!
Editor's note: No actual females were harmed during the manufacturing of this blog entry. Our brave volunteer test reader (Ghennipher Weeks) did suffer some emotional trauma in the line of duty, but with just a few short months of intensive therapy, she should be just fine.