Friday, August 6, 2010

Little's Second Law

Little's Law is a nice idea that tells us: we want small batches of work. Smaller, always smaller.
See here for a start:
This is from a John Little at Case Western Reserve. And it is fairly old.

One day this phrase came to me: People are remarkably good at doing what they want to do.

I call it, in fun, Little's Second Law. And I have mentioned it before.

A friend said: You must talk about this more. But is it not obvious?

This law has two sides. On the one we have: Where there is a will, there's a way. If they really want to do it, they will overcome any obstacle. These human values of persistence and wiliness are both Odyssean and Protean.

The other side is what I call the Ebet principle. My now wonderful sister was once 12 when I was 15. Her older brother, in his wisdom, would remind her that she (a) should clean up the den, (b) do the kitchen dishes, (c) finish her homework, and (d) clean up her room. And by the age of 12, she already knew 1500 ways to assure that anything her older brother asked her to do would (1) not get done, and (2) mostly likely the lack of action would be blamed on her brother.

When they don't want to do it, they can often make sure it fails.

As a practical matter, this has one specific meaning (among many others): The ScrumMaster must get the team to want to do Scrum.

We do well to remember these basic laws of human nature.


Unknown said...

True, but how? As a software professional used to getting logical 1s and 0s to bend to my will, I'm not used to getting illogical humans to want things.

Joe Little said...

Hi Drew,

Good question. This first obvious thing to say is that often it is hard. In fact, since they have freedom, in some sense it is impossible to guarantee success. Still, we have our various means of persuasion. Logical argument is one. Getting them to focus on the positive side is another.

In "Fearless Change" by Manns and Rising, they give us about 47 patterns to introduce a new idea to a person. See also "A sense of urgency" by John Kotter.

In some sense, we need them to feel the positive reasons to change. (You noticed, perhaps, that 4 letter F word: Feel.)

If the old stuff did not work very well, and there is a real reason to change (eg, the new project is really important), sometimes they will take a chance.

"Just Do It" is one of my favorite patterns; you might say: "Let's just give it a try for a short time, ok?" Often that is enough. Then after 3 Sprints they can feel the benefits.

More later.