Reduce Friction

On the bike at the gym this morning, I thought about increasing my level. When I exercise, more friction is good.

But when you develop or use products, more friction is bad. Brian Marick talks about  this when he speaks and writes about “ease” for development teams. If you've encountered a web page that made you do 25 different things before you were able to do what you wanted (some conferences want a whole lot of information, even if they've requested you send in a proposal), you've encountered friction as a user.

Up until this morning, I thought the technical debt and ease metaphors were sufficient to describe the friction that people encounter on projects. However, I also like Keith Ray's post, “High technical debt = slum.” I feel like a second-class citizen–sometimes a third-class :-)–when I am part of a team or use a product with high friction.

When you hear these statements, you know you have friction:

  • We can't move to shorter iterations because of overhead
  • It works on my machine
  • Let the testers find the problems
  • We can't finish a feature inside of a week
  • It's just too hard to do <that thing>

And, if you don't acknowledge technical debt, you can't do a darn thing about the friction you encounter. It just grows and grows and grows.

If you work on a project, what do you do about the friction? Do you reduce it at all times? Sometimes, that's the right approach. Sometimes, it's not. If you are a project or program manager, do you look for friction? If not, start. Friction is often an unknown risk coming true.

Most of the time, friction makes our lives miserable. Unless, we're in the gym. Then it might make our lives better in the long run. But for work, and for general living, think about reducing friction. Work and life will be much easier.

2 thoughts on “Reduce Friction”

  1. Interesting… I often say, “Automation is the grease for the Agile wheel”! I mostly mean automated testing, but automated builds and even an automated way to create a developer or tester’s environment are ways of reducing the friction you describe above.

    What I haven’t figured out very well yet, though, is how to reduce friction in people minds. 🙂

  2. That’s not always true, though. Try the exercise bike with no friction and you’ll spin like a madman. (Or madwoman, though you never hear that phrase.) It’s actually pretty hard to pedal at a sustainable rate with no friction at all.

    I’ve never tried, but I suspect that if you gave me a half hour to pedal as much as possible, I’d get more done with a small amount of resistance. And I’m not even counting the multiplier of work done, I mean simple pedal rotations.

    Does this also apply to development? With no resistance do you go too far, too fast and burn out?

    I don’t know the answer, but comparing it to a stationary bike raises that interesting question.

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