What were we thinking?

This is gonna be awesome! I just know it!

After I realized the stove wasn’t hot enough yet to my left hand, I reached out my right a few minutes later.

(No, the baby in the picture is not me… it’s just a metaphor. I don’t think I ever had that much hair… but don’t look too hard for any old pictures.)

I totally LOVE the people I work with… no “buts”, they are awesome.

It’s so much fun to go to work every day and solve the world’s problems, and it’s great to know somebody will have the courage to say “What are we thinking?”

That is very cool, and it keeps us from getting burned too badly. If you haven’t experienced it, I recommend you produce that kind of environment.

I don’t take credit for it myself, I just have some strong-willed, trustworthy people around me.

Literally yesterday at about this time, I posted an article about value in which I wrote about the courage to back away from an offer we don’t want to make.

This afternoon, a group of us was noodling on an approach to an offer for a customer when we went way down a path that just made us feel sick.

It turns out that this time I was the one who called foul, but there are many cases where somebody else is first to jump in.

When you are in a position of doing something you think is wrong (not necessarily morally) or makes you sick, sometimes you feel you have to do it. That is when you can say you lack the autonomy to do what’s right. In your career and your work, such times can highlight for you that something is out of sync.

Now, if you are actually stuck in a situation where the lights turn out if the software doesn’t ship, you have to do what you have to do. Again, you lack autonomy, which is freedom from unwanted constraints, compromises, obligations or relationships. We all have some obligations we are beholden to.

But when you notice them, what actions could you be taking to relax those constraints a little? In what ways can you prevent defects or breakdowns from recurring? Do you have a team or someone in leadership who supports “stopping the machine” long enough to fix an issue? Is there someone missing from your team that you can add to expand your abilities and help you overcome the constraints you face?

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Who says what’s valuable?

So, what's it worth to ya?

You? Or your customer? Or their customer? Or some high-priced-out-of-town-consultant who will work as long as there is budget?

As we write software, especially using agile approaches, we often speak about the notion of value.

Most commonly we refer to value according to the perspective of the business owner, customer, stakeholder, etc.

I am writing about value today because of questions that arose from my earlier post on producing software, in which I summarized an objective of agile to produce quality software, fast.

(I was waiting for Vince to let me know he had posted his thinking, but figured we would be safe to cross the streams after all. Sorry, Vince.)

Quality and Value

A fundamental question is “What makes quality software, quality software?” Is it just freedom from defects? How about conformance to specifications (you gave me what I asked for but not what I wanted)? Where does “value” fit into a notion of “quality“?

Now, Vince can guess where I am heading, but there is not room in a single blog post to write about all of this… so I get a two-fer or a three-fer (or “more-fer”?) on a single set of distinctions!

Anyway, let’s start by saying that value is not something you can carry in your pocket, but an assessment – an interpretation. The assessment might have merits backed up by fundamentals, it could be supported by generally and widely accepted principles, or it could just be an opinion.

In that way, value is not objective, fixed or permanent… but what people value nevertheless can stir them into a frenzy.

Works of Art

Writing software, especially custom software, can be compared to being commissioned to produce a work of art – what we produce may be one-of-a-kind, especially when someone is paying through the nose for it.

If you haven't got a penny, then a hay-drachma will do

In those cases, it only makes sense that the commissioner (the “customer”) has the final say in what is valuable, and that assessment will be the framework within which the software is considered “quality”.

Now, I often work with my teams as we write proposals to think of “the offer we are willing to make“… which might not be the same offer the customer is looking for. Imagine Michelangelo being commissioned to whitewash a picket fence.

We need the courage (the ethic) in those cases to decline making offers that we don’t value.

In doing so, we avoid cheapening our help and we preserve the economics of custom software… after all, it is not always the appropriate course for a customer. When it is, we can be valuable.

What do you think about your customers’ notion of value being an assessment? Do you think they believe it is real, fixed and obvious? Have you considered NOT making offers that you don’t want to make? Why might you be hesitant to do so?