Success is harmful

Little can be more harmful for a software development team than team members immediately after a successful previous project.

They are so soaked up with the Answer that has lead them to success that they tend to forget the Question. They forget that their project had several Questions. And they forget that they had to search for an Answer every time when the Question had changed.

Their Answer is so successful, enjoyable, and emotionally attaching that they value it more than their way to the Answer. So when they come into a new project, they bring their precious Answer with them, and apply it, no matter what is the Question. “If all you have is an Answer, every Question will match”.

This effect is known as second-system effect, described by Brooks in his “The Mythical Man-Month” and published in 1975, the year when I was born. Despite the fact that everybody has read this book (if you hasn’t, click here and add it to your Christmas wish list), this effect can be seen in the real life over and over again. So is the power of a successful Answer.

So, what should we do instead? As always, life is not black-and-white. We should not transfer previous solutions and methods blindly, nor should we avoid using the most valuable that we have – the real-life experience.

Instead, focus not on solutions, but on the ways how to generate them. Research, what factors your previous successful solution was depending on. Reflect, how would the solution probably change, if you change one of the factors. Learn, how to generate solutions quickly and intuitively.

Don’t be pleased with the fish you’ve got, go learn fishing.

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