Slowing Down to Go Faster

George Dinwiddie is an independent software development coach who helps organizations, large and small, to increase the effectiveness of their software development efforts. He provides guidance over a broad range, at the organizational, process, team, interpersonal, and technical levels. He is currently crusading to break down the barriers that hinder effective collaboration between the business, the programmers, and the testers. George is a frequent speaker at Agile conferences. See his blog at http://blog.gdinwiddie.com.

It's hard to know if we're producing systems as fast as we could produce them. We can, after the fact, always identify ways in which we "wasted" time without contributing to our desired outcomes. But why can't we identify which will be waste before the fact? Because we want to go as fast as possible!

The Illusion of Speed
I was thinking about this last week as I was driving down the road. The four-lane road was crowded, and traffic was moving slower than the posted speed limit. The car behind me saw an opening and whipped over to the right lane, accelerating until it closed the gap with a two-ton truck ahead. There the driver, again, matched the speed of all the other vehicles, signaling their frustration by following close behind. They had escaped one impediment briefly, and significantly increased their speed until they reached the next one.

The truck slowed for merging traffic ahead of it. As my lane accelerated slightly, I passed this car. I thought about the parallels between this and many of our software development endeavors: We often focus on our peak speeds to the detriment of minimizing the time to reach our goal. The short-term speed increase is immediate and sure. The longer-term consequences are less certain.

I realize that I've driven similarly at times. On this day, I was relaxed because I had started early enough that I…

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