Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Practice Debt

We spend a lot of time thinking about beginnings. We kick off a project. We launch a product. We plan and prioritize and create backlogs and work backlogs. We're good at beginnings, and we're good at progress.

But what about endings?

We're decent at pre-defined endings. The retrospective after an iteration is a well-defined entity. The postmortem after a release or a big crisis is also something that's been around for decades. We miss a lot of endings, though; we simply don't give consideration to stopping things. And that accumulates practice debt. Practice debt is very similar to technical debt; instead of software getting crufty, it's our procedures and practices and traditions and policies. It's the stuff we do because we've always done it, even if it no longer has value.

We tend not to think about how to end support for a release.... until we're ready for it to be done right now because it's actively bothersome. We tend not to think about how to stop a tradition.... even when it's obsolete. We accumulate practice debt just like we accumulate technical debt.

I challenge you to stop something, to take one step toward paying down your practice debt.

In my case, today I am going to skip our weekly team meeting. We all sit together, and share a chat channel all day. We stand up daily and talk about progress. Do we really need a team meeting every week? No. Sometimes we do need a meeting, but usually for a specific purpose (like planning a big lab move). But that doesn't happen every week. Sometimes it happens twice in a week, and sometimes it doesn't happen for a month. So rather than interrupt the day to spend 15 minutes chatting about things we all already know, we're just going to keep working. We'll have a meeting when we need a meeting. But starting today, we're going to stop having a meeting just because we always meet on Wednesdays at 2.

Look around and ask yourself why you do the things you do. Ask yourself what you do that really isn't helping. And then stop. Pick one thing and pay down that practice debt - by simply stopping.

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