Priority Fatigue

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This came to me at 5am after a bout of insomnia…

In the last few years the concept of technical debt has really taken root. Teams discuss it and use it to ensure important leftovers get cleared, not just business-critical priorities.

Here’s a fresh verbal anchor…

“Priority Fatigue” – The wear that sets in if you do nothing but focus on the priorities of your products or leaders all the time.

If you’re using Scrum or Kanban; chances are you’re working through some kind of prioritized backlog of work. Most Scrum practitioners are aware that despite iterations being called sprints the team are actually running a marathon. Every now and again your team needs to take a breather and at the end of a release they need proper recovery time.

Clearing technical debt is a common way of recovering. Another approach used by forward-thinking organizations is to have periodic innovation days or weeks where everyone “downs tools” and does something interesting instead. Good team-building days or activities are a third option.

These are all ways of addressing priority fatigue on a team.

Weekends and holidays are the personal slack that we use to pay off some of our individual priority fatigue however many of us don’t actually rest any more.

Our lives are so full we don’t have time to recover. In fact, many people now continue (at least partially) working even whilst on holiday – it’s frequently expected these days.

In the same way we relieve priority fatigue for teams, consider taking time to step back reward ourselves as individuals in innovative ways. If nothing else; take some regular time out to do something interesting even if it’s not important. **

**Caveat: don’t overdo it! Strike a balance with your priorities.

The Oubliette

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An oubliette is a particularly unpleasant dungeon characterized by a well-like opening. During medievil times these were used “to forget” (oublier -in French) about “unwanted guests”.

Imagine how you’d feel stuck at the bottom of an oubliette?

It’s probably one of the least inspiring places to be. Expect feelings of despair & hopelessness. You might find yourself asking “What do I do?”, “Why do I bother?”, “It’d be easier to just curl up and let it end”.

I’ve seen development teams end up in similar situations. Untamed defects build up around them over a period of years until it’s too late. The backlog is so deep there’s no hope of getting out. Even committing the entire team to just fixing bugs for over a year won’t save them.

It starts with a brittle codebase. A prior combination of poor architecture, lack of clear standards, lack of debt management and years of too much corner cutting. Often the underlying culprit is repetetive “business pressure” with a team that have not been empowered to say no. This mountain of cut corners and poor decisions offends the sensibilities of all but the most cavalier of developers but once the pit starts to get deep and squishy, what incentive is there to improve?

Your business cannot see delivery of features sacrificed to refactor the codebase, it adds no business value!

The gradual drip drip of quality problems continue as your ability to keep up with demand for new features slowly leaches away, the team slows down further, it costs more and takes longer to develop as the business piles on the pressure for even more new features in less time.

The oubliette spirals towards oblivion and like a prisoner at the bottom of the well, your team and codebase become starved of quality.

Don’t let this happen to you.

(Here’s the first part of how to escape and prevent the oubliette)