by Leon Rosenshein

Strong opinions, Loosely Held

Everyone’s got opinions. Some strong we feel strongly about, some not so much. Some we are willing to consider changing our minds on, others we aren’t. How you balance how strong your opinion is and how hard you hold on to it is the challenge. It’s easy to hold on to something too tightly or for too long.

That’s why companies have policies like Disagree and Commit, Meritocracy and Toe Stepping, No Jerks, or No A**holes. It’s to encourage getting the balance right.

What’s supposed to happen is that everyone has their opinion. When there are conflicting opinions, people bring their opinions and their reasoning together and make an informed decision, that everyone then carries out together. It seems like a good idea, and when it works it is a good idea.

The problem is that, like everything else, it’s a two-edged sword. Those policies are supposed to help the best ideas rise to the top. However, they rely on certain conditions being true. That all the people involved are equals, and that there are no, or minimal, penalties for being wrong.

Unfortunately, that is often not true. Building software is a social endeavor. At its core, it’s about people and the way that they interact. And people have their own motivations and goals, and not everyone has the same ones.

What often happens is that instead of a strongly held idea with the best evidence being chosen, the idea with the strongest voice wins. Sometimes that is the loudest voice, sometimes the most persistent, sometimes it’s the most senior person’s idea. That’s not what we want.

And no policy that relies on others to keep it will make it happen. Instead, it’s on everyone, but especially those with more situational power, to make sure it does. By watching what is happening. By making sure that there is a counter to the loudest voice. An amplifier for the quieter voices. A supporter for those that need it. The longer I’ve been doing this, the more often I find that I have the opportunity to help other’s ideas get the consideration they deserve.

That doesn’t give anyone the option of not needing the facts, the documentation, the proof, that their opinion is good. What it does do is make sure that a good decision is made with the best available information.

That takes care of the Strong Opinions part. Which leaves us with the loosely held part. But that’s a discussion for another time.