"Fly, you fools" - getting out of Survival Mode

Do you recognize any of the following scenarios?

  1. Continuous influx of requirements put you into permanent death-march - you're always struggling against deadlines, there's never time for refactoring, unit testing, etc.
  2. Firefighting is your bread'n'butter - issues pop up on daily basis here & there, so there's never time to fix (or even locate) the root cause or go through thorough post mortem.
  3. You've reached the point when each quantum of work you do is burdened with enormous "tax" - hence huge efforts result in dripping value. There are just too many dependencies, architecture is too coupled, procedures too complex, hierarchies too rigid.

While slightly different, all these scenarios fall into one category - "survival mode" (I've taken the name from Roy Osherove's "Elastic Leadership", personally I've always called this state "free-the-mandays-mode"). Survival mode has one, very clear symptom - lack of "slack" (according to DeMarco's definition). Survival mode has one interesting feature as well - it's a clear sign that you're in deep shit & not getting out really.

Why so? In all these scenarios you're not really learning. And even if you think you have some hypotheses, you have NO TIME to validate them (e.g. via controlled experimentation) & turn into conclusions. Your situation is not improving, you are in a spiral leading straight down, into the maw of madness.

Now the most interesting part: if I remember correctly, Roy evaluates that more than 80% of development teams never get out of survival mode.

Let it sink for a moment ...
>80%.

And I tend to agree (based on my observations) - in the same time very few of them are able to realize this problem & concoct actual solution. For majority of them it's the NORMAL STATE of how things are! They have NEVER experienced otherwise! Actually, in large Enterprises this percentage may be even higher, such companies recruit more & more graduates & teach these unaware & non-expecting juniors that this is the way to go!

Scary. Isn't it?

That's why we really need to build this awareness - permanent survival mode is NOT normal. While in survival mode, your (as a team) first & major priority should be to get out of it. By creating slack - due to scope cuts, forming dedicated crisis unit, full feature freeze, even forced decommissioning - whatever it takes. Get out of the minefield!

"Fly, you fools."

Gandalf, "Fellowship of the Ring", J.R.R. Tolkien