Avoid "Good Ideas"

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Good ideas kill projects. Sometimes it's a quick death, but often it's a slow, lingering death caused by missed milestones and a spiraling bug count.

You know the kinds of good ideas I'm talking about: Tempting, no-brainer, innocent-looking, couldn't-possibly-hurt-to-try sorts of ideas. They usually occur to someone on the team about halfway through a project when everything seems to be going fine. Stories and tasks are getting knocked off at a good pace, initial testing is going well, and the rollout date looks solid. Life is good.

Someone has a "good idea," you acquiesce, and suddenly you are re-fitting a new version of Hibernate into your project to take advantage of the latest features, or implementing AJAX in some of your web pages because the developer showed the user how cool it is, or even re-visiting the database design to utilize XML features of the RDBMS. You tell the project manager you need a few weeks to implement this "good idea," but it ends up impacting more code than originally anticipated, and your schedule starts to slip. Plus, by letting in the first "good idea," you've allowed the proverbial camel's nose in the tent, and soon the good ideas are coming out of the woodwork and it becomes harder to say no (and the camel is soon sleeping in your bed).

The really insidious thing about "good ideas" is that they are "good." Everyone can recognize and reject "bad" ideas out of hand - It's the good ones that slip through and cause trouble with scope, complexity, and sheer wasted effort incorporating something into the application that isn't necessary to meet the business need.

Here are some key phrases to look for:

  • "Wouldn't it be cool if …" Really, any sentence with the word "cool" in it is a danger signal.
  • "Hey, they just released version XXX of the YYY framework. We ought to upgrade!"
  • "You know, we really should re-factor XXX as long as we are working on ZZZ …"
  • "That XXX technology is really powerful! Maybe we could use it on …"
  • "Hey, <yournamehere>, I've been thinking about the design and I have an idea!"

Okay, okay, maybe I'm being a bit too cynical with that last one. But keep watching out for "good ideas" that can kill your project.


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