Motorcycle CM

When I learned to ride a motorcycle, I never realized how appropriate the lessons would be in configuration management. Keeping the bike on track, handling emergencies, and monitoring progress are much like improving process in an organization.  This month we'll look at some of those principles and see how they match up.

Look where you want to go One of the amazing truisms of riding a motorcycle is that the bike will often go where you are looking.  That's good and bad. When a muffler falls off the car in front of you, do NOT look at the muffler.  Instead, look for your escape.  It's much easier to avoid the danger, when you are looking in the safe direction.  In CM, you can spend all your time finding the problems and plugging all the leaks. But instead of putting out fires, wouldn't the time be better spent building the system and processes that negate those fires before they start?  Look to the solid principles and goals.  Clearly you can't ignore dangers and problems but spending all your time on them will result in a series of patches to your CM system, leaving it disjointed. Identify your goals.  Ensure that each of the changes that you do make is consistent with where you are trying to take the organization.  Look toward where you want to go.

Lean in the direction you want to go
One of the first lessons I learned about riding a motorcycle was how to turn.  You cannot turn a motorcycle without leaning in the desired direction.  The same is true of an organization.  The people steering the organization, themselves, have to lean in the direction of the change.  Simply handing down dictates and moving on to the next agenda item is not enough to change the inertia.  It requires a commitment to the changes.  Is the boss making it clear that improving process matters?  Has he or she demonstrated this is valuable to him or her?  Is the organization backing up the dictates with the resources to get the job done?  Within configuration management, it starts with us too.  If we are pushing out a new version control tool, are we using it ourselves for our documentation?  Are we keeping the training manuals, implementation plans, pilot results, configuration plans, etc. in the tool?  If we aren't using the tool ourselves, do we really have the credibility to bring the other groups into the fold?  Lean in the direction you want to go.

Look through the turn
When you are riding a motorcycle, things that are not exceptionally notable in a car can be catastrophic on a bike.  A two foot wide patch of sand spilled from a dump truck may mean little when turning a car.  But when you are on motorcycle, you only have two wheels to work with.  If one of those loses its grip on the pavement, you are in serious trouble.  Look through the turn to see what's coming.  You shouldn't be surprised by something you could have seen sooner if you were looking.  Bikes, like organizations, do not really like to change direction, especially at the last minute.  Looking though the turns allows you to keep your head up for problems to be avoided.  It might be as simple as not putting in the request for additional CM staff when budgets are tightening.  Maybe a new development manager is starting next week and it might be wise to hold off on major process changes until he or she can get some footing or you can gain buy in.  By the same token, maybe now is the time to get on the improvement throttle before the next major product cycle starts in earnest.

Communicate constantly
One of the most difficult things on a bike is being seen and communicating with other vehicles on the road.  Bikes are much smaller and less noticeable.  Almost every time

AgileConnection is a TechWell community.

Through conferences, training, consulting, and online resources, TechWell helps you develop and deliver great software every day.