Making an Attractive Corpse

Make an attractive corpse. Projects get cancelled and plans change, but with an agile approach, your team will have built something and will have tangibles that at worst could go on a resume. — Peter Biddle

A couple of months ago our team sat down to read over and discuss a talk by Peter Biddle — ”Plucky Rebels: Being Agile in an Un-agile Place”.

In this talk is the phrase “Make an attractive corpse”. It’s hard for such phraseology not to make you do a double take. In fact I read over it a few times, we all did. This one phrase could not have been more apt at that point in time.

Our team was, and at the time of writing still is, looking at dramatic uphieval. Some members of the team were facing potential redundancy, or at very least a change of role. Also, with an ongoing “transformation” underway we knew our team would effectively be dissolved.

Each member of the team was committed to and passionate about the product we were developing, and we were proud of what we were achieving. When you can then see the “fat lady” warming up her vocal chords stage left, preparing to sing…’s a kick in the guts.

A project fails, a product doesn’t get used, a great project is transferred to a different team — these are all examples of what I would consider to be corpses. Peter Biddle’s point is that it is inevitable that you will be in this position at some point…..and so what? That doesn’t mean there is nothing to be gained from it, there can be a hell of a lot to gain from it. You just need to focus on getting out of it what you can, and helping other team members do the same.

It was about 6 weeks ago we read this, and it has become somewhat of a team motto. We are still striving to achieve as much as we can, to make the product as great as we can, and at an individual level to learn as much as we can. This phrase has helped us keep right on track in a turbulent environment. We now know that when that moment comes, we will have done the best we could do, and the corpse will be as attractive as we could make it.

I also thought back to previous projects and can identify ones that were hideous to work on and ultimately got canned. I’ll tell you now, those were some stunning corpses — I learnt so many lessons, and have applied those lessons to my work since. As much as I knew I was flogging a dead horse, I put everything into it, and I got so much out.

So you may know there will be a corpse, you just need to make sure you make it an attractive one.