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Checklist vs Mission

2 min read

Imagine the following situation. Your little brother starts to smoke cigarettes and your parents are worried about that. As you are close to him, they ask you for your help. The goal is to have your brother stop smoking. What would you do?

A straightforward, pure logical way of convincing your poor brother to avoid smoking is by collecting a stack of medical research paper containing the encyclopedic proof of all negative effect of cigarettes. It is very unlikely that this strategy will be successful. And if it does not work, your parent won’t be happy about it. However, you can shrug off and walk away, claiming that you have done your part. This is the exact mentality if you only want to get rid of the burden you bear. Your objective from the very beginning is sadly only to mark an item in the checklist.

Things will be different if you are committed to a mission. Now the game play is different. You will do an extensive research on why things happened in a certain way. You will ask around, perhaps checking some of your brother’s close circle, and collect a better understanding of the sudden behavior change. You are doing your best to maximize your chance of success, regardless whether you can achieve the ultimate success or not (some things are beyond your power).

The same philosophy applies to software development as well. A sprint can fail miserably if everyone carries out a task so that he can have something to say in the next day’s scrum meeting, the goal is shifted from “creating a solid product” to “working on FooBar so I won’t get fired”. A testing workflow can be very ineffective if every quality engineer looks forward to fill the test worksheet as much as he can, the objective is no more “ensuring high-quality product” as it is merely “checking all the marks in the plan”. An engineering organization can disintegrate quickly once each VP only optimizes for the annual target, the responsibility gets degraded from “promoting a great team” to “making hay while the sun shines”.

Next time you want to respond to an idea, to propose a new change, to share an interesting development, or just to defend your own opinion, think about it again: is this part of your (life) mission or is it only to cross an entry from your checklist?

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