Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Don't Go There

A few years ago, I worked for a company that had a pool table. It was cool and different. A lot of edgy companies had Foosball tables and Ping Pong tables, but a pool table is a different beast altogether. This baby had three or four huge slabs of slate over an inch thick apiece that were laid out on a bed of stuff -- mud, clay, something -- and carefully leveled over the better part of an entire day. Then the stuff was left to set over night before the felt was applied.

We played pool to ease tension, introduce new employees to the company and, finally, to determine who was the "best". That is, we started a ladder.

As we played, we realized that we regularly getting ourselves into situations that were just tough to work out of. We didn't know what to do. Sometimes we tried to force our way through, sometimes we tried to finesse our way out. Usually, our efforts were too little and too late and our opponent trounced us.

So we got training. We brought in an instructor. A Pool Shark. The movies had nothing on this guy.

He wowed us and explained many aspects and strategies. At the end of his session, the inevitable question came up; "What do you do when you find yourself in a situation like this?" Then we would layout some of the most challenging plays in which we found ourselves.

He looked at the table and the balls laid out on it and a pained expression crossed his face. "I wouldn't let myself get into this situation," was his reply. "Never."

He knew enough about the game to know where the danger areas lay. He had played and practiced enough to know how to keep is game in the area where he can control it.

This story occurred to me as my colleagues and I struggle to stand up a large and complicated release that was pushed into production too soon. We know better. We know where the danger areas lie and how to avoid them. But we were pushed right onto them. A mandate was given and we did our best to march to it. Sometimes you just have to do that. But if and when you do, it is helpful to remember that you chose to ignore the evidence that it probably wouldn't work smoothly.

Just don't go there. Don't set things that aren't highly likely to succeed, especially when lots of dollars are on the line.

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