Boil Your Own Ham
I once heard a story about a woman who was cooking a big turkey and ham for her family’s Christmas lunch. Her inquisitive daughter was helping and questioning her at every step to learn as much as she could about this great family tradition. At one point while preparing the ham, the woman turned it over and cut the top off of it. After witnessing this, the daughter asked why she needed to do that.
The mother replied that she didn’t know why but did it that way because that’s how her mother had done it. This only made the girl more curious. She looked online and couldn’t find any culinary advantage or reason for this particular step, so she eventually called her grandmother to see if she could shed any light on the subject. She explained the situation and, after a pause, her grandmother began to laugh. “Well,” she said, “it’s always lovely to hear from you, and I wish I could give you a better reason. But the truth is, I always had to cut the top off the ham because the biggest pot I had was not large enough to fit the size of ham we needed to feed everybody!”
I was reminded of this story recently while working with a team that shared an on-call rotation for a production system they had developed. Each night, an automated system would run and perform some processing tasks, then send a text message to signal that all was OK when the tasks were completed successfully. The message was typically delivered at around 10:30 p.m., at which point the team member who was on call was free for the rest of the evening.
I noticed that although the workday for the organization finished at 4:30 p.m., the overnight tasks didn’t actually start running until 7:00 p.m. The system required all clients to be logged off before running. However, it seemed to me that even the most dedicated of employees was probably not accessing those systems 2.5 hours after the close of business.
After a little probing, we learned that the start time for the processing had been moved up by an hour in previous years to facilitate a large amount of work that required a number of clients to work a considerable amount of overtime. But despite the fact that this work was complete in just a few weeks, the scripts had never been changed to start at the earlier time. After explaining the situation to management and notifying clients of the change, we successfully moved the scripts back an hour to start at 6:00 p.m.
Although this was a small change, with virtually no impact on the clients, it meant that the development team on call could finish an hour earlier each night. And on a Monday, Wednesday, or Saturday night, being able to kick back at 9:30 p.m. instead of 10:30 p.m. makes a big difference.
It’s always worth asking why if you observe a process or procedure being followed that you don’t fully understand. Inspect and adapt. You never know when you might be boiling someone else’s ham!
Originally published at www.scrumalliance.org.