Free Fall

Or elimination of pre-discussion bias

Learning Free Fall was the hardest of all the Agile comeuppance meted out to me.  Of course, it was not called free fall by the team teaching me about it.  Instead, it was the sinking feeling that I was always arguing the wrong side of every issue.  I was supposed to be the hot architect but my ideas kept getting shot down by the team.  They weren’t wrong per se, but they were not as good as the team could figure out during a discussion.

Meetings went like this:

Rob: “Hey guys, I’ve got this great idea that all of our SQL queries should leverage the zeitgeist feature because it will improve performance 25%.”

Team: “Um, yeah but zeitgeist requires us to perform green joins on the red data.”

Rob: “That’s a good point.  I thought that most of the data was yellow.”

Team: “That’s true.  What about meme queries?  They’re like zeitgeist but work for yellow and red data.”

Rob: “I really thought that zeitgeist was the way to go.  I think we can make that work if we limit the red data.”

Team: “Zeitgeist was a good suggestion, but we’ll go with meme.”

While my ideas helped the team, I could not get over the fact they did not go with my original idea.  Even worse, I would keep fighting for my idea after the team had obviously moved past it.  It slowed down decisions, made meeting more contentious, and caused our optometrist bills to skyrocket from excessive eye rolling.

All that changed when I learned how to trust my team and free fall during meetings.  Free falling (queue Tom Petty) is decoupling the problem from your idea of how it should be solved.  If you bring the problem to your team without a solution then you’ll get everyone’s brain working on ideas for the solution.  When I stopped being emotionally committed to the solution, I was much more ready to listen to other ideas.  More importantly, it was obvious to everyone else that I was more willing to listen so they were more willing to contribute and less interested in arguing.

When I started the discussion without having picked a solution, it was obvious to everyone that their ideas would be heard. 

We had more ideas, better discussion, and better results.  Generally, the team result was much better than my original idea and (bonus!) the team was always more willing to implement them after a free fall discussion.

Free fall takes some practice.  Find a buddy to help you stay on course by kicking you under the table when you’re reaching for your parachute.  Trust me – it’s like EPO for your team (and it’s legal!).

This entry was posted in Agile, Teams and tagged , , , , , by Rob H. Bookmark the permalink.

About Rob H

A Baltimore transplant to Austin, Rob thinks about ways of building scale infrastructure for the clouds using Agile processes. He sat on the OpenStack Foundation board for four years. He co-founded RackN enable software that creates hyperscale converged infrastructure.

2 thoughts on “Free Fall

  1. Pingback: Black Hat Feedback Essential For Cloud Success « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

  2. Pingback: Agile takes discipline: having a strategy means saying “no” more than saying “yes” « Rob Hirschfeld's Blog

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