Stop Playing Tetris (With Teams, Sprints, Projects, and Individuals)

John Cutler
Dec 10, 2017 · 5 min read

For a year or two, I have been using Tetris as a metaphor for a slew of software product development anti-patterns. It works on the individual, team, sprint, project, program, and organizational level. And not just for development…it works wherever people are coordinating to do work.

This is no knock on Tetris. It is a great puzzle game and it IS possible to be “good” at Tetris. When I talk about Tetris, I’m talking how most people experience the game.

This morning I stumbled on this awesome Tweet from Bill Murray, and it inspired me to write a quick post about Tetris.

We all know what Tetris “feels” like. It’s a fun game. But as Murray points out, there is an element of futility and masochism to it as well. It’s stressful! Now imagine you’re the blocks and pieces. Imagine that the gameplay is not within your control. That’s how working on the front-lines in software product development can feel like sometimes!

Some examples of [Sprint, Feature, Team, Project] Tetris in software product development include:

You get the idea. There are some common themes:

So how do you battle the Tetris mindset?

Jabe Bloom hits the nail on the head with this Tweet:

To Jabe’s point I’d add:

The one nice thing about Tetris is that it is very visual! The reason that it serves as a great anti-pattern metaphor is that you can see/touch/hear the collapse. Figure out a way to bring similar sensemaking to your organization. That way, if you DO play Tetris with teams, individuals, projects, and programs…the net effect will become painfully obvious.

Your biggest danger is playing Tetris (and suffering the impact) but having no way to reflect on that because it has become too ingrained in your culture.

Q: How do we know that we aren’t caught in a Tetris game?

A: On a super high level…a sense of sustainable (and effective) flow.

John Cutler

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Multiple hat-wearer. Prod dev nut. I love wrangling complex problems and answering the why with qual/quant data. @johncutlefish on Twitter.