Project Lies and Vicious Cycles

let’s talk about project lies, like these gems:

“I’m 90% done.”
“The status is green.”
“It will be ready by the promised date.”
“The new feature works fine.”
“Users are loving it!”

Sometimes these statements are true or there are good reasons to believe them. But what happens when that’s not the case?

Once the hidden problems and risks become apparent, people learn not to trust each other. They introduce process mechanisms to protect the project and themselves. Unhelpful behaviours appear: avoidance, blaming, complaining, “If I want it done right, I’ll just do it myself”, etc. People start nagging each other daily for status.

Before you know it, there’s a lot more overhead and ill will. It takes even longer to finish anything to everyone’s satisfaction. Teamwork and collaboration continue to suffer. People aren’t happy with the work, and avoid flagging new problems and risks.

This is an example of a vicious cycle that people fall into in software development.

You get such cycles because the work happens in a system — it’s not just a sequence of downstream hand-offs.

There’s another reason that keeps this vicious cycle alive. When new people join the team, they see those protective process mechanisms, assume trust is not a factor of work here, and behave accordingly.

If you want to make things better, you must be aware of such cycles. By understanding the choices and actions that create them, you’ll know where to make effective changes.

I was a guest on several podcasts when my book Deliver Better Results came out. Thinking about the system and its feedback loops are central ideas in the book, and this is one of the examples I gave for vicious cycles in development.

Catch two of those conversations, and discover the solutions I suggest for improving value delivery, here: Tech Lead Journal and Agile Uprising.


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