Friday, January 4, 2013

On Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions are hardly a new phenomenon. They're ubiquitous in our daily lives. Everywhere you turn magazines and TV shows and friends and family are making resolutions and encouraging you to make resolutions: lose weight, exercise more, give up smoking, tidy the house, get organized, be a better friend, laugh more, get that raise, find a new and better job, etc.

It gets tempting to make work resolutions, too, either individually as a team. THIS is the year we finally get serious about technical debt. This year we resolve to not let product management impose arbitrary deadlines. This year we're going to pair program at least 25% of the time. Work resolutions are great. They're basically goals, and goals are good things in general. They give you a direction and something to strive for as a team.

January is a terrible time for work resolutions.

Think about all the things going on during January at work:

  • Those year end projects that didn't quite get finished are now really urgent so they still count toward last year. (No kidding - I have more than one client that counts the end of the quarter as January 15th for bonus and goals purposes.)
  • The business is often making annual and quarterly goals
  • It's roadmap update time: the 6, 12, and 18 month roadmaps all need a quick refresh
  • People are still rolling in from vacations at the end of the prior year
  • Finance is doing end of year close outs and bugging everybody for final paperwork and expense reports and whatnot.
  • Many teams have new members or offer internal reshuffles around this time.
All of that activity means that in January you're spending less time doing your day to day job and more time dealing with the activity. This isn't a bad thing, but it's the state of the work world. Adding work resolutions on top of that, though, is a recipe for failure. Sure, we'd love to pair program more, but we've got 4 hours of meetings today, and can't get two people at a keyboard for longer than 30 minutes.  Yes, we do need to tackle technical debt, but gosh, we just sat through a presentation of the quarterly business goals and truly I don't know what that means for development.

All that conspires to make sure that we're not going to succeed at our new resolutions. There's a lot of change going on. There are more distractions than normal. It's just not a good environment to succeed.

So don't try. Don't make work resolutions in January.

Make work resolutions in April.

By April, we've all achieved a routine.  Things are back to normal, and we have a good idea of how busy we're going to be (so just how ambitious was the business back in January?). April is a good time to make resolutions that you'll be able to keep. You'll know how much you'll be able to work together, and how much technical debt you really can tackle among the features you're being asked for. In other words, you'll be in a position to make resolutions you can keep.

And making resolutions is good, but keeping resolutions is great.

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