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Commitments – Making, Keeping, Revising

November 23, 2015

Back on October 20, 2012 I posted “Rants of a Madman – When 30 Day Syndrome Attacks – Planning Like You’re Goldilocks.”  It was a rant about software teams who go back to the well saying that they need another 30 days to finish a release, just to find out they need another 30 days, and perhaps even another 30.  It was also a rant as to how Agile can help solve this problem.  While traveling from Chicago to Wichita last week I was reminded about this post and thought I’d share my recent advice to my teams.

I earned the “Most Flight Delays For A Single Flight In A Single Day” Achievement this week. I think I’ll sew the badge onto my suitcase. 11 flight delays for my flight from Chicago into Wichita and I have the 11 text messages on my phone to prove it! It was just crazy. I was afraid that I was going to burn out my FitBit as I went back and forth between gates.

Although United tried to be very transparent with the delays, I think there is a lesson to be learned in one of the key mistakes they made: At one point they gave up, quit planning, and began issuing off the cuff, gut-check last minute updates. The last 4 delays were caused when somebody assumed “this surely cannot take longer than 5 more minutes” and updated the new departure time to be 5 minutes in to the future. Well, you can guess what happened — they missed their updated time. About 10 minutes after they missed their previous “this cannot possibly take longer than 5 more minutes” update, they decided again it couldn’t take longer than 5 more minutes. Yes, next update, next fail. And yes, they made this mistake 4 times in a row.

When it comes to updating expectations one of the worst things one can do is to fall in to this syndrome of simply tossing out a quick answer that “feels good.” When providing an update for a new date, many forget that this creates a new commitment. Yes, mistakes happen and sometimes a commitment needs to be reset, but when it is reset one needs to understand that is indeed a new commitment. It is perhaps even more important in some ways than the original.

Missing commitments over and over destroys any previously earned credibility. It doesn’t matter how smart one is or how hard one works, the continued miss on commitments creates mistrust not only to customers but with one’s team. United would have been served much better had they taken a pause to actually think through setting a new expectation.

Sometimes one feels pressure to come up with that new commitment immediately, even before the answer is known to themselves. Don’t fall for this trap. If one doesn’t know it is best to say so, then give a date for a date. That is make a commitment as to when others can expect to receive an updated prognosis and final commitment.

Don’t become Goldilocks… 😀



From → Personal, Software

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