Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Scratch the Biggest Itch

Take any sufficiently perfect system, add a bit of familiarity - knowledge plus usage -  and it will develop cracks. Call this Catherine's Law of Closer Looks.*

So now we've got a system that we'd like to change. Maybe we're talking a little spackle and paint to smooth out the edges, maybe we're talking tearing down walls. Doesn't matter. We've got ideas!

Now, in school they taught us just what to do next.... brainstorm. Except I think this sort of sucks in practice. You get lots of ideas, true... and then what? Life starts to interfere - a customer problem, a new release that has to go out, additional problem areas, etc. And all you've got is a list that might be prioritized.

So skip the list. Instead of holding an afternoon-long brainstorming session, stop. Say to yourself, "what hurts me the most?". Spend an hour or two (no more!) figuring out what single thing causes you the most pain. Then fix that.

That way, before other things have had a chance to swoop in and pre-empt you, you've made one change that actually helps. It's still not perfect, but it's better. And with any system, better is a pretty darn good goal. Over time, each little better adds up to a huge improvement in your system.

Find your biggest itch and scratch it. Repeat. Eventually you won't itch any more.

* For the record, I'm sure someone has said this before; Google's just not helping here. If you can find it, I'll be happy to credit appropriately!


  1. I certainly agree, but I think the tough part is the subject - whose itch? And as soon as you have multiple people (developers, testers, marketing, product management, customers, ...) they all have different itches and you need to resolve those so that you work on the relevant itches.

  2. That's true - some groups are able to complain louder than others, too.

    I try to favor a weighted round robin approach so we can keep everyone as happy as possible. Sometimes that's easier said than done, though, and you have to go with the itch that makes you personally hurt the most.