Spiraling Into Control

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[This was originally posted March 7, 2005 on my personal blog. Stumbled across it, and felt it might deserve a post here] 

The other week I attended a panel discussion. This was part of a pilot of a larger course for program managers. Before the panel began, the instructor was relating a conversation where a developer on a project was speaking of it as “sprialing into control.” The instructor left open the possibility that he thought the developer was crazy. The room of program managers laughed. Thoughtfully.

What a great phrase.

We want to clamp down to get our projects under control. Enforce rules to get repeatable. We want to keep our teams on the shortest path from A to B.

But the interesting projects haven’t been to B before.

And they’re dealing with shifting human dynamics on the team, discoveries that don’t reveal themselves until uncomfortably late, and a world around them that isn’t standing still.

We can’t leap to control and stay there. We can only sprial close. And, with constant effort and feedback, we hope to stay close.

Short iterations. Small increments. Minimized work-in-progress. Communication and retrospection. Discretion to adjust the process to keep breaking bottlenecks.

Control through feedback, not prescription.