Ignorance and Haste

Nov 21st, 2002 by Tony in Questioning XP

The disease affecting projects is two headed: ignorance and haste.

Ignorance is difficult to treat because it is hard to admit to our own ignorance. Reframing the problem as “how to be successful with only partial knowledge” makes the conversation more palatable. By talking about partial knowledge environments, we enable a team to talk about the research, investigation of prior art, and learning involved in successfully delivering an application. This is in marked contrast to most teams, which seem to specialize in reinventing wheels and ignoring previous work.

Haste is an endemic problem in the software industry. Project teams are nearly always pressed for time and hence end up ignoring prior work because the team does not take the time to do the necessary research and learning. When teams are under time pressure, the team members make sure that they look busy, even though they know what they really should be doing is taking the time to research and think about what they are doing.

Unfortunately, haste makes the effects of ignorance even worse. When faced with partial knowledge, developers can either make assumptions based on their own experience, or they can ask questions and do research. In all too many organizations, the developers have been trained to make assumptions. True, the training department does not put on a course called “Assumptions 101”, but by word and deed developers are encouraged to keep on working and to ask only really important questions.

— Pete McBreen, Questioning Extreme Programming, Chapter 3

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