A Train, Wrecking

June 5, 2012

You need a plan. You’ve just been told by your boss that the highly visible, habitually failing flagship project – yep, the one that’s a year behind schedule – just became your problem. “Don’t worry, you can only come out of this looking good,” you hear, among other things, like “hand-picked” and “Swat Team” – each one making you cringe more than the last. You’ve been here before, and while the stakes may be different, one thing is certain – You. Are. Fucked.

You look around the room at engineers you’ve never worked with before. You wonder if you’re the only one who realizes what’s really happening, and if you are, how you’ll tell them that they’ve just been suckered into long, stressful nights and weekends as far as the eye can see – slaves to an immature product team that has yet to produce cogent requirements or decent story descriptions, and who have completely lost faith in engineers as a whole, if they ever had any to begin with. Don’t try to save the day – it won’t work. This is about survival, not foolish heroics that will ultimately lead to a credibility bankruptcy.

Still not convinced? Try this: you are 3, maybe 4, iterations away from hearing the same people who got you into this mess tell you that “they could build this product in 2 weeks” and that the team “isn’t moving fast enough”! By then, it won’t matter that for the first time in the history of the organization  a team is actually meeting their timelines and delivering on requirements, establishing a lasting relationship of credibility and respect with product, and demoing real functionality every Friday. All that will matter is that the unified, self-sustaining team you will have grown so fond of will be on the brink of becoming line workers. The control has already started shifting, and your team has a crucial decision to make: will you stand, or will you fold?


John is a serial conversationalist who spends entirely too much time engulfed in problem domains he knows nothing about and has no earthly business trying to learn. He can occasionally be found at your local coffee shop writing algorithms and trying to think deep thoughts.