Discipline makes all the Difference

Last weekend I had to paint the ceiling of our new bathroom. Which, if you work in complex organizations looks like straightforward and simple task right? My dad, who worked in construction for most of his life keeps telling me that tools, preparation and working in an organized way is really important when working around the house. I always respond, yes I know dad, you told me a hundred times already.

So I bought expensive paint and quality tools for the job. So I’ve got the tools 🙂 Then I started with the preparation, I emptied the bathroom and covered everything I don’t want paint on. The next thing was to clean the ceiling. I filled a bucket with warm water and did some grease remover in it. All went well, when I ran into my first problem or challenge if you prefer that word. I could not find any cloths to clean with. Of course there were, but I didn’t have the discipline to call my girlfriend and ask. My phone was on the couch, that meant that I had to go all the way down the stairs into the livingroom. Then a miracle happened, I saw a cloth in the laundry basket. So, with a big smile on my face I used it to clean the ceiling and then painted it. It was all a great success and I gave myself a high five for it. I slept well that night.

The next morning, when I went to take my first shower in my newly painted bathroom I noticed something. What yesterday looked like a job well done now looked like, well… a job not so well done. There were these kind off bubbles, like the paint reacted with something. So I started thinking, going back in time. What did I do? Quickly I got to the cloth I used to clean the ceiling with. After talking to my girlfriend I discovered it was used to clean the oven using some chemical cleaning stuff. I now regret I didn’t have the discipline to take 1 minute to call her. I had the best tools, the best advice and I really consider myself a skilled painter but still I failed miserably. I even made things worse because now I have to find a way to remove the bubbly paint from the ceiling.

So this got me thinking about organizations, Chaos theory and discipline. Chaos theory is a concept where small changes to the initial state of system can have enormous consequences. For example: small changes in a codebase or configuration can have devastating effects on IT systems. When you work in an industry where the Chaos theory is applicable, it is crucial that you have a lot off discipline. I often hear the excuse: “I’m not good at the details.” Well, details is not something you are good at or not, you either have the discipline or you don’t. You ever heard the phrase “The devil is in the details.”? It’s true when you work in IT. And when you don’t have the discipline to watch the details, maybe IT is the wrong industry for you.

I noticed that the Agile movement brings with it some sort of laziness. Continuous Delivery promises that using a release pipeline with automated tests will take over the need to pay attention to what you are doing. As long as the tests are green you are ok! I see organizations practicing Scrum, regularly skip the Continuous Improvement part because it makes them feel uncomfortable. Or acceptance criteria not added to critical user stories because its “hard” and therefore not a lot of “fun”. If you believe that Agile means you should only be doing the things you love and make you feel good, then you haven’t been paying attention.

If someone promises you that by using a tool, everything will be fault free and easy, don’t listen! If retrospectives makes you feel uncomfortable, face it! If adding  acceptance criteria is hard, stick to it and get better!

And never forget:

Craftmanship = Skill * Discipline