Project Management

The Importance of Oblique Goals

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

What are your big goals--the ones at the top of your list? Productivity? Speed? Happiness? All of these are understandably desirable. They also share another attribute: They all are best achieved by seeking other, lesser goals rather than by seeking them directly.

 “Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.”
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

Making the decision that you want to be happy might be important toward achieving happiness. Directly trying to achieve happiness usually backfires. In most cases, the direct approach dissolves into seeking surrogates, such as possessions or the approval of others. In doing so, we put our happiness in the hands of events we cannot control. In addition, we may achieve these surrogates of happiness, but still not be happy. Rather, we heap a heavy burden of unfulfillment on top of our previous unhappiness.

When we look back at times when we were really happy, we find that those are times when we were preoccupied with doing something else. Perhaps we were playing a game we enjoyed, or solving a puzzling problem in collaboration with colleagues we admired. At the time we were focused on what we were doing rather than how we were feeling. The happiness was a by-product of our absorption.

The Problem with Speed as a Goal
I often hear managers of software development projects asking questions about time. “When …

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"Experience is a comb which nature gives to men when they are bald."

- Chinese Proverb