Look Ma! No Hands!

Years ago I worked for a company that had no quality assurance, none!  No testing, nothing!  In point of fact they didn’t have a lot of things, furniture for example.  We had some folding tables and chairs, but not enough.  Performing without a net, wee!  That may have been the first time I mumbled “Look Ma!  No hands!”  We took a childish glee in our bravado.  I was talking to my inner mom.  I she smiled lovingly and quietly suggested: you be careful honey.

I’m always amused when I mumble that.  I’m the audience at my own farce. Self-awareness is better if amused.  I’ve worked on projects without: customer contact, product management, specifications, management, real engineers, sales, money, office, email, operations, user documentation, source control, a good editor, a sane language, clue, I could go on.  And, I must point out that these days, what with cloud computers, there is a fad for computer projects without computers!

In fact this pattern is so common that I’m starting to think there’s something to it.  We presume it’s a bug, but maybe it is a feature. In any case, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of being on the look out for it.

Each time there is a narrative.  There is always a list of awful things that happen if you add it back: lazy OPS, whinny QA, micro-managers.  There is a whole  literature  that lays the blame for institutional  inability  to innovate down to their fine offices and the heavy sauces in their company  cafeteria.    There is always a bit (or more) of a sense of mission in doing without.  This isn’t just hair shirt; it’s a real pleasure showing that you can rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time.  All while riding a bicycle with no hands!  These all create a kind of pride and solidarity in the team, along with a bit of a dirty secret.  In a sense all that narrative is an amazingly positive way to make good out of scarcity.

Do-without no-hands seem to be a positive.  And not just because you get a better story to tell to your grand kids.  Doing without can be a total win.  Lousy is often a damn sight more expensive than none for a lot of the parts of projects.  Money is always short.  Thrift is a virtue, it buys time.

The only time it blows up in your face is when the team becomes so deeply committed to positive aspects of forgoing this or that, and then suddenly what they desperately need is that.  One firm of my experience had lousy QA and it all blew up.  It took two expensive tries to fix that.  First they hired up some QA, but they got no respect and it failed.  They took the most senior of labor and stuck him with the job.  Their status, and their intimate familiarity with the local custom, let them route around the deeply entrenched belief that we could ride that bicycle with nothing but dancer like body language.

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