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Friday, June 20, 2008

If only...

Bear with me. This following extract is from the wonderful Terry Pratchett, where Ridcully has just met Granny Weatherwax for the first time and is reflecting on "if only..."
"Do you ever wonder what life would have been like if you'd have said yes?" said Ridcully. "No." "I suppose we'd have settled down, had children, grandchildren, that kind of thing..." Granny shrugged. It was the sort of thing romantic idiots said. "What about the fire?" she asked. "What fire?" "Swept through the house just after we were married. Killed us both." "What fire?! I don't know anything about any fire?" Granny turned around. "Of course not! It didn't happen. But the point is it might have happened. You can't say 'if this didn't happen then that would have happened' because you don't know everything that might have happened. You might think something'd be good, but for all you know it could turn out horrible..."

Now think - how many projects have you said "if only...", for whatever reason, big or small? Talking to a colleague the other day, I found myself lamenting the approach we'd taken to a significant proportion of the system. Oh, we'd "met the needs", we'd "solved the problem", but my evolving understanding meant I now saw a different road. The destination (let me continue the metaphor) was still the same, but the road would probably have been less bumpy if we'd just paused and filled a bit more of the map in. The village when we arrived was similar - same users, same services - but this village was more exciting, cleaner, the users were happier and more optimistic. This second village may be starting from a similar point but it had far more potential - potential to grow, to expand, to prosper.

What to learn? Well, firstly I need to heed Granny. There is no value in "if only's". We could have taken that other road, and a 1001 things could have happened. In fact, maybe if I hadn't taken the journey I did, I wouldn't be able to look back and see the other road and have the knowledge I need to take this new route with confidence - I'd have taken a wrong turning, or crashed, or worse...

Lesson One: Never regret the choices you make in development. Celebrate them. It's far healthier, for you, for the team and ultimately for the users.

Is it going to be worth "throwing away" all that effort. Hell, yes! That's why we took the journey. The reward for all that effort IS the experience and understanding we've gained. We may have been able to make that first journey at less cost, been more agile than we were, but that knoweldge is just another reward for all the journey's we'll be making in the future.

Lesson Two: It's never to late to change direction.

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