Friday, June 20, 2008

The Principle of Denial of Pain, and when to suspend it

The best practitioners I know, both technologists and otherwise, wish to deny customers their pain. In the way that Eric the Phantom of the Opera was driven to make the Music of the Night, these Best Technologist are driven to make virtuous systems, small on pain, for users and fellow technologists. I call this the Principle of Denial of Pain.

But pain is often educational, even medicinal. When we become aware of this phenomenon of our craft, we immediately incur the responsibility of determining when to suspend this Principle for the educating and medicating of our charges.

It is often hard to do, especially if you are in a coaching role. My friend and mentor Ken Howard recently described this same concept like this:

Consulting tip of the week #27: Occasionally you just have to stand by and allow mediocrity to happen -- This can lead to opportunity. (Also see "It's more fun to build a whole house of cards, rather than trying to keep someone else's house of cards from falling.")

So true.

But, you must accept it when you sense it, and you must act upon it when it is time, or you are robbing your charges of valuable, and lasting, lessons.

When do you suspend it? When do you "let the pain flow" for the hope of a valuable and lasting lesson? Well, the times are manifest, but here are some I've personally experienced:

  • When you've skillfully made a case for something, but the Team or person is unwilling to accept it nonetheless. Example: Actuals are an important measurement.

  • When something is complicated to explain, and in doing so you may get some one's back up (anger, offend). Example: We need to use a tool like Fogbugz to track our defects, because index cards won't work.

  • When someone won't accept a Principle for the sake of comfort or a lack of courage. Example: We must provide this feature (support for Leave of Absence) or the customer won't use the system - violated Simplicity- the art of maximizing the work not done.

What are some of yours?


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