Good experiences END well.

You should read the rest of this post to understand why I wanted to insert a picture of an anal prob here.  You should google image search "fast and slow anal" to understand why I didn't.

Actually, you probably shouldn't do that google search.

I dare you to not read on.  


I do Agile and TOC because it makes me and people working in, or with, software development teams happier.  

Let me give you a little example.  It happened a couple of months ago.

Background: We've just launched a brand new consumer division and while loads of people contributed to the project's success I'm happy claiming my contribution made a big difference.

Here's the good bit: about 8 weeks ago the delivery team had a celebration afternoon, followed by bubbly and snacks.

Here's the important bit: Roughly 5 weeks ago they launched.

Huh? Yep, the delivery team was so relaxed and confident about the solution that they took an entire afternoon out to celebrate THREE WEEKS BEFORE THEY LAUNCHED.  

It's the first time I've seen something like that.


Which was an awesome thing because the first half-dozen months - where we put together a brand spanking new development team and then figured out how to work in an agile way - were rough.

I need to tell you about Peak-end theory.  


Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman wrote a great big book called Thinking Fast and Slow.  The New York Times has a great article on it and I'm cutting and pasting from that in what follows.  

What does it mean to be happy? When Kahneman first took up this question, in the mid 1990s, most happiness research relied on asking people how satisfied they were with their life on the whole. But such retrospective assessments depend on memory, which is notoriously unreliable.

What if, instead, a person’s actual experience of pleasure or pain could be sampled from moment to moment, and then summed up over time? Kahneman calls this “experienced” well-being, as opposed to the “remembered” well-being that researchers had relied upon. And he found that these two measures of happiness diverge in surprising ways.

What makes the “experiencing self” happy is not the same as what makes the “remembering self” happy. In particular, the remembering self does not care about duration — how long a pleasant or unpleasant experience lasts. Rather, it retrospectively rates an experience by the peak level of pain or pleasure in the course of the experience, and by the way the experience ends.

Here's the big you've been waiting for:

These two quirks of remembered happiness — “duration neglect” and the “peak-end rule” — were strikingly illustrated in one of Kahneman’s more harrowing experiments.

Two groups of patients were to undergo painful colonoscopies.

The patients in Group A got the normal procedure. So did the patients in Group B, except — without their being told — a few extra minutes of mild discomfort were added after the end of the examination.

Which group suffered more? Well, Group B endured all the pain that Group A did, and then some. But since the prolonging of Group B’s colonoscopies meant that the procedure ended less painfully, the patients in this group retrospectively minded it less. (In an earlier research paper though not in this book, Kahneman suggested that the extra discomfort Group B was subjected to in the experiment might be ethically justified if it increased their willingness to come back for a follow-up!)

As with colonoscopies, so too with life.


This is an vital concept if you're an Agile change agent - maybe the most important.  

If you are transitioning to Agile, or even if you are just starting an agile project with a new team (which will, inevitably, form and storm - then maybe form and storm again and again as staff come and go) then things will be difficult.  It's vital that, early on, you manage your teams' moods' and set their expectations low: things will start rough then get better.    

They might not believe you (since you've previously spent weeks telling them how awesome Agile is) but when it does end well, people will remember the good-ending much more than the rough start.  And then, provided you keep that memory alive, the next project will start much easier.  Why?  Because they'll recognise that dealing with the hard stuff at the start of the job is not only natural, it's also a big part of their job.

clarke chingComment