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"We don't have control over our ambition."

Last week I wrote with thoughts on this question: How do you know a story is too big before it’s too late?  But I think there’s a deeper issue here we could explore.  A better question might be Why do stories get too big in the first place?  

If we only limit the bigness, as I suggested on Friday, we could just be creating other problems.  After all, having 100x as many small stories will bring its own problems.  We shouldn’t think that simply making stories smaller is a magic bullet.

I was chatting my friend Jerry about this, and he proposed an interesting reason for why stories get too big:  “We don’t have control over our ambition.”  

Whoa!  I’ve been thinking about that statement all weekend.  If we don’t control our enthusiasm, then our stories may not be the only thing that’s too big:

  • Our projects may be too big
  • Releases may be too big
  • Features may be too big
  • Timelines may be too short
  • Businesses may become too big

(And, as you might know, I’m building a house, so I had also to wonder if my ambition caused my house to be too big!)

Unchecked ambition causes us to overreach what we need.  This is reasons for some kinds of failures in software, business, and life.  Like other parts of ourselves, ambition is to be something we need to control.  If we have control over our ambition, we can cultivate the patience to plan, build and grow at a sustainable rate.

Controlling our ambition means taking a reasoned, thoughtful, disciplined approach to both accelerating and decelerating.  Deciding when to go fast, when to go slow.  When to go big, and when to stay small.

Now, before you ask “How do I control my bosses/product owner’s ambition?”, pause for a minute.

Do you have control over your ambitions for items like…
1. your team’s velocity?
2. your team’s quality?
3. your team’s size?
4. your team’s productivity?
5. your team’s release schedule?
6. your team’s efficiency?

Is more always better in these cases?
Can you afford to pay for what you want?
Do you see places at your company where ambitions appear to be out of control?

About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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