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Re: [XP] Re: Risk Log

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  • Ron Jeffries
    Hello Kent, thank you for this challenging note. Thanks to Ilja s recent posting, I think I see how to respond to your thoughts here. I ll give it a try. ...
    Message 1 of 46 , Oct 1 9:09 AM
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      Hello Kent, thank you for this challenging note. Thanks to Ilja's
      recent posting, I think I see how to respond to your thoughts here.
      I'll give it a try.

      On Wednesday, September 27, 2006, at 2:23:58 PM, you wrote:

      > When you say you hope to avoid conflict, I think we see the situation
      > fundamentally differently. In the dialogs you wrote the conflict already
      > exists. It is a conflict between their wishes and your beliefs. The client
      > wants the software in three months. The programmers' experience leads them
      > to think they could deliver in nine months. Conflict. Avoiding it wasn't an
      > option. The question is how to approach and deal with the conflict.

      We do disagree. In my opinion, the conflict doesn't exist until the
      two parties decide to fight. Conflict is a clash between parties, a
      battle, opposition. It's not conflict until we clash. I'll continue
      this notion below ...
      > My experience is that the sooner and more clearly I state the conflicts I
      > see, and the more carefully and empathetically I listen to others'
      > perspectives, the sooner we can agree to working together toward our common
      > goal. When all parties are heard, then we can begin a conversation about
      > what to do.

      Again, I would not entirely agree, in a few possibly small regards.

      I certainly agree that it is important to listen carefully and with

      And, I would like to have my own perspective listened to and
      appreciated. However, I don't think that either full disclosure of
      my perspective, nor its full acceptance, is necessary to the
      reaching of a satisfactory conclusion. Might be, might not. I might
      get what I need without being fully heard, in which case I can wait.

      To digress: This relates to my view that experience teaches. If
      the boss will engage in steering this project, I am confident that
      he'll learn how effective it really is. If he can agree to do the
      steering, I can wait for him to do the hearing.

      Nonetheless, I'm all for full and empathetic listening.

      So, where I sit, I'm prepared to begin a productive conversation
      without my perspective having already been heard. I'm comfortable
      letting my perspective come out over time.

      That's one reason why, in answer to the question "When will this be
      done?" I would NOT respond "Nine months". For the rest, read on ...

      > That's why, in answer to the question, "When will this be done?"
      > I would respond, "Nine months." I find this to be the shortest, most
      > respectful, and transparently trustworthy path to working together. I
      > understand that our experiences differ.

      My view of the situation is that there are two big issues with
      flatly saying "Nine months".

      First of all, it's not true, at least not in my case. I don't know
      when the work will be done. Nine months is my best guess, based on
      assumptions that absolutely will not come to pass. For me, such an
      answer would not be trustworthy. I grant that it might be for you.
      I'm just not that good.

      Second, if we look someone who is thinking "three months" in the eye
      and say "nine months", I think we're just asking for an outburst: a
      conflict. Being honest and truthful doesn't have to mean disclosing
      everything we know in our first sentence, especially not if we're
      really trying to be both respectful -- and productive.

      My thought on referring to the data was helped along when Ilja tried
      to gentle your words, saying:

      > I think there are different ways to say "nine months".

      > I know some developers who, if they say "nine months", they mean "it
      > will take nine months, and you can't do anything about it, you evil
      > manager who wants me to work overtime to deliver this in a shorter time
      > and thereby produce crap". And of course the managers understand that,
      > and isn't amused.

      > I understand you to mean something more like "as stated, it will
      > take nine months. I understand that that isn't acceptable to you,
      > so I hope we can work something out together we might be able to
      > accomplish in less time." A manager who is used to the former
      > meaning of "nine months" might have a little trouble hearing that,
      > though I'm sure it can be done.

      Ilja's example above tries to get the developer and the boss working
      together. I like that: that's where I was going. As he points out,
      even what he wrote could be hard for the boss to hear productively.
      Your (Kent's) flat "nine months", in my opinion, is almost
      impossible to hear productively: it seems to me dead certain to
      raise the boss's blood pressure, not pique his interest in
      collaboration toward success.

      My thought is not to artificially create a conflict between
      programmer and boss, even if I do know how to do it in a principled
      way. I don't want principled conflict: I want principled

      Therefore rather than make it a contest between my knowledge and his
      will, I call the attention of both of us to the data. "Look at the
      data," I say, until he looks. Now it's him and me against the data.
      We're together, the time and scope are the problem.

      In the part of the conversation I sketched, the boss had not yet
      looked at the data. Sooner or later, he will. Then, I'd work for
      something like this:

      B: This says the project won't be done for nine months!

      R: It's not quite that cut and dried, chief. Our best estimate right
      now is that if we do all the 300 features on the list, it will
      take nine months.

      B: That's what I said, nine months.

      R: Yes, but notice that our preferred three month date is on the
      chart as well. By that date, it looks like we can do any 100 of
      the existing features. We can readily select the most important
      100 and have a good product ready by the date. And that's not

      B: What else?

      R: A lot of the features in our list of 300 are pretty big and
      spiffy. [FX: Picks up a card, displays it like Vanna would.] Much
      of the value of these features can probably be provided in much
      simpler ways, especially if we work together. [FX: Tears 3/4 of
      the card off and tosses it away, holding up the corner as if it
      were a precious treasure.] If you and we work together to trim
      the fat out of this product idea, we can surely deliver far more
      than just the 100 most important capabilities, all by the date
      you're hoping for.

      B: We can get most of what we need in only three months?

      R: If we work together, very likely we can. I'm certain that we can
      put together the best possible product, ready to go, in three
      months, by working to select and trim the features.

      B: That would be great. I was figuring I'd have to settle for six
      months to get some piece of junk out the door, by the time all
      the shouting was over about your stupid nine month estimate.

      R: With your help, boss, we can do way better than that.

      [FX: Music up, close up on their smiling faces. Fade out.]

      Still, Kent, you and I may in fact disagree. What I hear you saying
      is that you want to face the conflict, fearless in your ability to
      be transparent and trustworthy.

      I, too, want to be transparent and trustworthy, and I certainly do
      my best to be fearless.

      And I want to avoid conflict. I try to do that by deflecting any
      notion that I may have, or the boss may have, that the other guy is
      the problem. Our joint problem is the infinite dreams we have for a
      wonderful product, and the finite time and capacity that we have as
      developers and customers.

      We both, you and I, appear to want to wind up on the same side of
      the table with the boss, solving the problem together. Where we may
      differ is that you seem to me to be willing to get there through
      making an initial move that emphasizes our differences, and I want
      to make an initial move that emphasizes our similarity.

      But I may be mistaking what you're up to, since I freely grant that
      your words often sound to me like you're mistaking what I'm up to.

      I'd like for that not to happen as well, while we discuss how to
      bring the business and the developer to the same side of the table.

      Regards, and thanks again to Ilja for helping me think,

      Ron Jeffries
      It is a bad plan that admits of no modifications. -- Publius Syrus (ca. 42 BCE)
    • Ron Jeffries
      Hello Kent, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I ll see whether I can confirm or deny our growing common understanding on this situation. Unfortunately, I will
      Message 46 of 46 , Oct 5 1:58 PM
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        Hello Kent, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'll see whether I can
        confirm or deny our growing common understanding on this situation.
        Unfortunately, I will drone on, though I'll trim this as much as I
        reasonably can.

        On Thursday, October 5, 2006, at 3:04:36 PM, you wrote:

        > Thank you for stating your position clearly. We disagree about how best to
        > handle the hypothetical situation. If asked a question like, "When will this
        > be done?" I think it is cooperative to answer the question clearly and
        > directly. If it reveals a "conflict between their wishes and your beliefs",
        > as I wrote, then I am confident that I can resolve that conflict in further
        > communication with the customer.

        I agree with you that it is cooperative to answer the question
        clearly and directly -- to the extent that one can. You expressed a
        willingness to say "nine months"; I wasn't thinking that that answer
        was true enough to be mine.

        I prefer the project's ship date to be whatever date "they" have in
        mind. I prefer to manage scope to the date rather than the reverse,
        because I think people remember the date more than the details of
        scope, and because the customer/developer relationship consists to a
        large degree in the management of scope.

        I am confident that you can resolve the conflict between how long it
        would all take and how long they want it to take -- and that I can.
        Even in a real situation, whether we'd really start with the same
        step or not isn't clear, but since the situation was hypothetical
        and described in a few sentences, I'm sure we both invested it with
        very different elements from our own imaginations.

        I do believe that we'd use a fundamentally similar approach to the
        actual resolution of the conflict between wishes and what's
        possible, since the foundation of my current thinking includes a
        great deal of what I've learned from you, as well as a few other
        odds and ends that have come to me in the past <mumble> years.

        > You seem to see the situation as, "a contest between my knowledge
        > and his will," which I am always going to lose, since his will is
        > backed up by money and power.

        That's not quite what I see. I feel that answering with a hard
        number when first asked "when will this be done" is an approach that
        is likely to put the boss in that frame of mind. The situation isn't
        a contest between knowledge and will, but my concern is that your
        recommended "nine months" comment will make it into a contest.

        Leading with "nine months" might not take us where I fear it would,
        or it might not be as bad a place as I imagine, or your skills at
        moving from that place to common understanding between you and the
        boss might be greater than mine. I would prefer an initial move that
        is less likely to put us nose to nose. I want to be shoulder to

        I feel confident that you and I both want to get to a common
        understanding that would be principled and otherwise quite similar.
        My fears and skills are such that I'd probably not step in that
        particular direction at that particular moment.

        > You seem to believe that you don't need to be heard in order to resolve a
        > conflict, since you say as much below. "I might
        > get what I need without being fully heard, in which case I can wait." I
        > don't trust this strategy. My interactions with people are more effective
        > when I state my position and I listen to the positions of others. Others can
        > sense when I am holding back information and respond by holding back
        > information themselves or worse.

        I agree with your concern over hearing and being heard, and yes, I
        believe that there are things on my mind that may not need to be
        heard at all. That said, I fully expect all my relevant concerns to
        come out over time. I also expect to discover some concerns that I
        didn't know were relevant, that will need to come out, and to
        discover that some concerns I had weren't important after all. I'm
        open, in principle, to the idea that I don't need to bring out my
        every concern in every situation.

        Something about the situation made you want to name the date as the
        best and most important response to the question. I don't have that
        answer available to me, since I don't believe "nine months" and
        won't say what I don't believe. My intention was to start a
        conversation. Were I answering the question now, after all this
        reflection, but in the same rough direction, I might answer "when
        will this be done" with something like "Well, let's take a look at
        what we know. Here's how fast we've been going so far ..."

        My intention is to assist the boss to come to an understanding that
        steering the project to the best possible result by any given date
        requires business decisions to be made, not just technical ones. In
        other words, I think we'll do better to look at both scope and time,
        not just time, so I'm trying to get that into the conversation ASAP.

        Perhaps a better answer would be something that said that. "Well, we
        need to look at both scope and time ... all the things we might do,
        and the time we have to do them ..."

        > I see this as coming down to mutual respect. I want to respect the others I
        > communicate with enough to tell them my truth without reservation and I want
        > to respect them enough to listen to their truth. I want to respect their
        > good intentions enough to believe that we can work past our disagreements.
        > Respect was the implied or missing element from the original formulation of
        > XP I wrote up.

        I understand that, to the degree that I am able. I certainly want to
        respect people enough to listen to them, and I want to respect them
        enough to tell them the truth. (I'm intentionally phrasing this
        differently from what you've said.)

        In this situation, and every situation, I expect that not every
        thought or fear I have will be relevant. I'll bring out the ones
        that matter, when they matter. And I will bring them out in the way
        I imagine will best help me communicate them clearly and get what I

        Mostly, when it comes to the schedule, I figure we need to come
        together over scope and time. I'm largely indifferent to which
        features we work on, and I'll be able to help more the more I hear
        about the pressures the boss is under. If my needs seem germane,
        I'll bring them up. If not ... not.

        I don't know whether we would actually differ much in exactly what
        we'd do, and whether the differences would be significant. I suspect
        that we would differ a fair amount in the specifics, and I hope that
        the differences wouldn't be significant, because I share your values
        and observe how well what you do works.

        > When people ask what is missing when XP isn't working for
        > them, most of the time what is missing are respect and other
        > relationship-building activities.

        I'll have to think on that "most of the time". Sometimes it looks to
        me as if their problem is that they need more tests. But that could
        be a result of lack of respect or relationship work. I'll have to
        think on that.


        Ron Jeffries
        The model that really matters is the one that people have in
        their minds. All other models and documentation exist only to
        get the right model into the right mind at the right time.
        -- Paul Oldfield
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