Its True… Your Intestines Can Do Math

Friday, May 7, 2010 – 3:12 AM

Or… The evils of hope and the endless battle of crushing math versus the reasoning power of our lower bowels.

Stomach colon rectum diagram.We’ve all been there at one point or another. Half way through an iteration and things aren’t going quite as planned.

  • The team of four engineers has two weeks left on their three week iteration but has only completed a quarter of the stories.
  • Frank, one of the developers has had to take the week off to deal with a family situation.
  • Three important and every unexpected bugs have surfaced from the previous release which went live a week ago. The Operations Team must have these fixed immediately.

After the days standup meeting the team meets to discuss the situation. Things are looking bleak. The numbers just don’t seem to add up. There’s no way the team can deliver on the iteration and help the Ops team, especially with Frank out for a week. People start discussing options for; cutting scope, firing Frank and hiring an orphan next time and not answering the phone to the Ops Team. Really, it’ll all be fine.

Then someone says something like “My gut says we’ll make it.” See… their lower bowel seems to have a firm grasp on the numbers. They’re rather go with than than the numbers in their head.

Why do we do this? Why do we ALL do this?

Pandora and her box, which was actually a jar.It’s human nature! There’s a reason that the last thing to emerge from Pandora’s Box was Hope. People want to be hopeful even in the face of crushing math. I should know… I climb mountains in the Cascades in winter, that really requires some hope.

So what’s my point?

What should we do in these situations? In my opinion we need to face up to the situation not rely on hope to stave off the impending reality. it will just bite you harder a few weeks later. A couple of suggestions:

  • Try and have a positive conversation about it. The embracers of hope will see you as negative pessimists rather than realists.
  • Don’t be a negative pessimist, try and really have a realistic view of the situation. If you cry wolf too often it becomes increasingly less effective. 
  • If you can’t agree who’s right at least try and come up with a plan B for what you might do should the situation not improve. This gives both parties times to come to terms with the likely outcome in another week.
  • In general burndown charts don’t lie. If the chart says you’re in trouble you probably are.