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The Wild Bill Protocol

Wed Apr 17 02:30:00 2013

The Wild Bill Protocol

A good friend of mine at a customer said an important thing to me once:

When you're up to your ass in alligators, it's hard to remember you're meant to be draining the swamp

He was spot on right, especially given the customer and the situation that he was a part of.

We were doing our best firefighting the problems that had built up over years of sales guys pressing a dev team for features right now and there being no senior/leader figure among the devs who could explain technical debt to them in a way they could understand.

Wild Bill fixed that. He could speak fluent business guy and he could speak fluent tech guy, so he'd listen to what the business needs and tell their team plus the shadowcat staff helping out what they needed ... and we knew what we needed to do. And we knew if we did it, then it'd be what their business people needed to make the world work for them and for the customers making the whole shebang go round.

He taught them an important lesson - that if you're always shooting alligators the swamp will never get drained, so no matter how bad it gets you have to assign some of your developer time to draining the swamp because if you don't nothing actually gets better so there's no point to any of it.

I think most serious technical staff have been in this situation again and again - but the distinction between alligator hunting and swamp draining is a metaphor and a half, and the first one I've ever seen every team in a company agree on as a description of what we're doing and why we need to work on both.

He showed the business side why they wanted it, and gave us time to do it, and the firefighting still got done because we all knew it had to but we were faster because we all had hope.

By the time you read this, my colleague, my friend, will probably be dead.

So let's call the idea of doing it that way, of dedicating some percentage of tech time to making things better no matter how much firefighting has to go on anyway, "The Wild Bill Protocol".

It's a damn important thing and I don't know that it's ever had a name. So I'm going to call it that because it's the only tribute I can think of that matters to me, and because this is a damn good excuse to give it a name.

This post is dedicated to Wild Bill, and may whatever afterlife you find be largely free of alligators.

-- mst, out.