What playing Asteroids taught me about Getting Shit Done

Breaking rocks like it's 1979

Some good analogies keep haunting me for years :) One of them I've heard from Liz Keogh some time ago - I don't remember the exact event, but I'm sure it was live, not recorded session. I don't remember the exact words, but it was something like that:

"Creating software products is like playing Asteroids. If you keep breaking the big rocks only, you may seem efficient in the beginning (because it's easy to target these), but you'll get overcrowded with tiny ones very soon.

The proper strategy is to keep overall asteroids' count low (kill smaller ones that pop up when big breaks before getting on another big one), so you don't have to maneuver like crazy, but can focus on breaking instead."

Hopefully you know (remember?) this game :) If you're unsure, try this link or just check this video:

Breaking rocks like it's 2016

So it keeps coming back (to me). In countless contexts - overgrown backlogs, big-up-front analysis/design, incomplete (or not respected) Definition of Done (e.g. layer-specific), excessive WIP, crawling development of too many features in parallel, 1 release of big-bangish pile of dung instead of MVPs, postponing user/sponsor feedback ...

If I had to name the biggest, worst & most meaningful flaw of our industry is the lack of proper execution focus. We break all the stupid, big rocks only & get stuck for good in the nebula of shards that we can't tame, control or even comprehend well. But the goal is about clearing everything - instead we've started everything but completed nothing ...

Reasons vary:

  • procedures, policies, tons of approvals, unclear decision taking paths - all this bureaucracy that makes you cry
  • the matter we are dealing with (software) is extremely malleable - it's very tempting to keep polishing stuff if physics does not limit you (e.g. consider sculpting as a contraction); this is possible due to limited transparency of what we do - for business people & managers it's a black magic or something similarly hard to assess :)
  • inability to escalate problems, manage issues, take responsibility ...
  • broken communication flavored with lack of ownership ...
  • unrealistic or badly defined goal definition (e.g. missing priorities or everything is top priority) ...
  • not asking 'why?' ...
  • etc.

What happens in such situations? People keep looking busy - from their perspective they are 100% occupied, so what's the problem? They may have a (theoretically) proper argumentation ("we're gonna need it anyway, one day", "this will save some work in future, we'll design for re-use", ...). But this is nothing but cheating ourselves.

Cult of efficiency is long gone. It's effectiveness reign these days.

Nothings gets attention like a bit of profanity

So if you're looking for a motto for you & your people - something "meaty", striking, short but specific and distinct - my suggestion is to borrow one from Aaron Levie (CEO of Box):

Quoting him for a full context:

One of our core values is "Get shit done." We have a very execution-oriented culture. It's kind of the opposite of a culture that has lots of process, lots of bureaucracy, slow decision making.

Cut the crap & Get Shit Done (for real, 100% done).

Pic: © V.P. - Fotolia.com