by Leon Rosenshein


I’ve been a subscriber of Kent Beck’s Tidy First? since almost it’s beginning. If you don’t have a copy of the book, consider picking one up. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. Not just things to do, but when and why to do them.

Since then, Kent’s been talking about his Thinkies, which are questions (or statements) designed to induce movement and provide you with more options and help you reach a decision. They’re short, straightforward, and are simple to apply. You start with a pattern, the situation that triggers the thinky, apply the thinky, then look at what you come up with. In many cases you have an entire new way of looking at things, a roadblock or two has been removed, and you get to make forward progress.

One of the recent ones was called McDonalds. It’s a great way to get a group that’s stuck in analysis paralysis moving again. When the see the group is stuck, make a suggestion. Not the perfect thing, and not something impossible, but something that’s unpopular, no-one really wants, but not completely ridiculous. The group won’t take your suggestion, and you really don’t want them to, but very often the simple act of suggesting a concrete solution will get the group to come together on choice that makes sense to everyone and is a good starting point.

This thinky’s name comes from the situation. The group can’t decide where to go for dinner. So you make a suggestion, such as McDonalds. Someone then says that’s a terrible idea. Let’s go to XXX instead, and the group comes to consensus. Deadlock broken and everyone gets to eat dinner.

You can use it in lots of situations. How should we manage workflow for this new project? Lots of discussion around rolling your own, buying one, finding an OSS solution, and lots of discussion around the pros and cons (mostly the cons) of each option. After a while folks are just repeating themselves, and you stop getting closer to consensus. You’ve got the equivalent of a super-saturated solution, but it’s just sitting there. To get things moving, you put out a throwaway choice. Something like “I know. We can use Celery/Flask to manage things”.

Immediately, things start to crystalize out of the solution. Celery/Flask won’t work because something. Instead, we should use Temporal because it solves all of our problems. It’s like opening Schrodinger’s’s box. All of the potential and possibilities collapse into a concrete situation that you can then move forward with.

So next time you and your group find yourself stuck trying to make a decision, try the McDonald’s Thinky. And check out the rest of them as well.