#NoEstimates? #NoProjects? #NoManagers? #NoJustNo

Drawing of Oliver Cromwell

#NoX seems to be the current pattern for hashtags designed to attract attention. While they certainly seem to serve that purpose, they also seem to attract more than their fair share of polarized viewpoints. Crowding out the middle ground makes for better propaganda than discussion.

So why does a picture of a long dead English political figure grace a post about hashtags? Oliver Cromwell was certainly a polarizing figure, so much so that when the English monarchy was restored after his death, he was disinterred, posthumously hung in chains, and his head was displayed on a spike. Royalists hated him for overthrowing the monarchy and executing King Charles I. The more democratically inclined hated him for overthrowing Parliament to reign as Lord Protector (which had a nicer sound to it than “dictator”) for life. To his credit, however, he did have a way with words. One of my favorites of his quotes:

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

That particular exhortation would well serve those who have latched onto the spirit of those hashtags without much reflection on the details. Latching onto the negation of something you dislike without any notion of a replacement doesn’t convey depth of thought. Deb Hartmann Preuss put it well:

For many of the #NoX movements, abuse of the X concept seems to be the rationale for doing away with it. Someone has done X badly, therefore X is flawed, irrational, or even evil. Another Cromwell quote addresses this:

Your pretended fear lest error should step in, is like the man that would keep all the wine out of the country lest men should be drunk. It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy, to deny a man the liberty he hath by nature upon a supposition that he may abuse it.

That some who do things will do those things badly should not come as a surprise. My singing voice is wretched, but to universally condemn singing as a practice because of that does not follow. Blatant fallacious thinking reflects poorly on advocates of a position.

In many cases, there seems to be a disconnect between those advocating these positions and the realities of business:

Owly Images

In response to his posting a link to “The CIO Golden Rule – Talking in the Language of the Business”, Peter Kretzman reported “…I saw people interpret “you need to talk in language of the biz” as being an “us vs. them” statement!” Another objected to the idea that the client’s wishes should be paramount: “the idea that the person with the purse has more of a voting right is one I don’t live under. i can vote to leave the table.” Now, I will give that one credit in that they recognize that “leaving the table” is the price for insisting on their own way (I’m assuming that they know that means quitting), but it still betrays a lack of maturity. In most case, we work for a client, not ourselves. How many times can one “leave the table” before they’re no longer invited to it in the first place.

The business is not a life support system for developers following their passion. Rather than it being their job to fund us, it is our job to meet their needs. Putting our interests ahead of the clients’ is wrong and arrogant. It is the same variety of arrogance that attempts to keep BYOD at bay. It is the same arrogance that tried to prevent the introduction of the PC into the enterprise thirty years ago. It failed then and given the rising technological savvy of our customers, has even less of a chance of succeeding now. Should we, as an profession, continue to attempt to dictate to our customers, we risk hearing yet another of Cromwell’s orations:

You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

This is not to say that the various #NoX movements are completely wrong. Some treat estimates as a permanent commitment rather than a projection based on current knowledge. That’s unrealistic and working to change that misconception has value. Management does not always equate to leadership and improving agility is a worthy goal provided focus is not lost. I’ve even written on the danger of focusing on projects to the detriment of the product. What is needed, however, is a balanced assessment that doesn’t stray into shouting slogans.

I’ve seen some defend their #NoX hashtag as a springboard to dialog (see the parts re: slogans, hyperbole, and propaganda above). They contend that “of course, I don’t mean never do X, that’s just semantics”. John Allspaw, however, has an excellent response to that:


9 thoughts on “#NoEstimates? #NoProjects? #NoManagers? #NoJustNo

  1. The recent webinar of Dan North describes “risk as fear.” This is a wholly uninformed view of the world, where Tim Lister admonishes us that “risk management is how adults manage projects” So we can interpret what those telling us to avoid risk are in terms of emotional maturity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The building sans planning philosophy is somewhat similar to the “emergence” one where advocates claim that if the “simplest possible things that could work” is adhered to for all the pieces, then a coherent whole will “emerge”. If we ignore the goal (because a goal exists for the client, regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not) we can’t steer. It’s arrogant to think that I can pre-program all the course corrections that will be needed to get to the goal, but it’s just as arrogant to demand to wander aimlessly until I feel like arriving there.


  2. As the person who seeminly started the #NoProjects pattern, I tend to agree with you. In my defence, I did try to express my doubt about the half-baked position on what seems a rather radical idea:

    I even went so far as to say that I personally find the focus on the negative uninspiring here:

    Twitter’s quantum makes it fiendishly difficult to do much other than speak in slogans though. Where it gets annoying is when those bombastic slogan become religious in other settings, where we have the space and time to explore the nuances and trade-offs. I can’t stand that.

    Thanks for sharing.


    • Joshua,

      Thanks for the comment. Definitely agree re: “bombastic slogans become religious”. No matter what, thinking does not become optional.

      I’ll check out the post – my basic position is that the main thing, especially for the client is the product and really not even that, but what they intend to use the product to accomplish. How that product is first delivered and subsequently evolved needs to be determined on the context.



  3. Pingback: Context matters - Black Swan Farming

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  6. Pingback: #NoProjects - Black Swan Farming

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