Friday, January 15, 2010

The Power of Slow

I spent part of my work day today doing mid-year reviews with my staff.  For us, it's merely a mile marker in the year, not any large event.  I meet with each member of my staff on a weekly basis formally as well as in ad hoc drive-bys throughout the week.  It works well to maintain that consistent and continuous communication.

During one of these 1-on-1 meetings today, one of my architects was voicing some frustration about the attitude a few project leads were taking with him.  They were pushing the team to just hurry up build something.  Whatever they could do quickly that worked.  He was saying that he had a hard time describing to these project leads how a touch more patience and even a different attitude about the definition of progress would help them see the risk in their approach.

I mentioned to him that I've been slowly reading Carl Honoree's The Power of Slow since last summer.  Only in that moment did I realize there was a way of expressing "slow" to addictively "fast" people.  Slow isn't about taking more time to get things done.  Slow is about the internal pace at which things are done.  From a software architecture perspective, slow doesn't mean spending months in design before anything is built; it means taking the time as your write each class and method to think through how best to write that particular class or method.  It isn't about wastefully over-engineering the solution to be something that will "be scalable into the future for unknown other uses" while the immediate problem is left unsolved.  It's about being methodical and intention in each action we take.  That creates a slower appearance, because the process becomes more efficient and there's less waste moving up and down the rate of progress curve.

The "Slow" line represents a steady and consistent stream of work.
You can think of the dips in the "Fast" line as any number of things:
  • Hurry up, then wait
  • Work fast, then go back to fix your mistakes
To reach the 100% mark at the end of the chart, both approaches may get there in the same amount of time, but the "Fast" approach consumed a lot more effort.  Effort being the length of the line itself.

One of the fears that a "fast" people have, especially "fast" managers, is that "slow" implies developing ultra-sophisticated solutions, most of which will never actually be used; over-engineering; or architecture-creep.  For some "slow" people it probably does, but the right kind of "slow" is merely a thoughtful, methodical implementation that gives everyone enough time to make sure they're doing the next step in the project correctly.  I may feel slow, but that's only because it's efficient.

Ironically, we see this in the world around us all the time.
  • When starting your car from a stopped position on slick slow or ice, you have to do so slowly or the wheels will merely spin.  In both cases, you'll move forward some, but when accelerating too quickly, you'll burn a lot more fuel and tear on your tires.
  • In cartoons, we see the antagonist rushing around in a hurry from place to place, rushing; while the protagonist slowly and thoughtfully moves through the chaos and reaches the goal first.
  • In action/comedy movies, we see a brash martial artist execute a flurry of activity in a dramatic attack, only to be stopped by a few small simple motions of the hero.
So many people incorrectly think that looking productive is the same as being productive.

In my own writing, my wife points out to me that there is power in brevity.  Sentences should say all that they need to say and no more.  I tend to add too many unnecessary adjectives, or flourishes, or sentence complexities.  More words often doesn't imply more meaning.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant blog post Paul!

    A proper understanding of slow truly reveals it is the far more efficient approach.

    Did I understand you correctly on Twitter, is this post the beginning of a series?

    I certainly hope so – I am looking forward to reading more – even if I do agree with your wife about the power of brevity :-)

    Best Regards,