Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Indecision and other vices ...


Following on a little bit from yesterdays talk of indecision, it's time to talk a bit about Foxhole Norman.

We've recently been rewatching the excellent Band of Brothers.  Norman Dike, aka Foxhole Norman is an archetype all too familiar to anyone who's worked on a software project.

He was a replacement officer for Easy Company and described thus,

Lt. Dike wasn't a bad leader because he made bad decisions. He was a bad leader because he made no decisions.

Rather than fighting, he would usually remain in his foxhole.  If there was a crisis he'd try and return to base for more orders.  He was constantly absent.

He embodied indecision in a place where indecision was deadly.


On the other end of the spectrum is acting rashly, which has equal perils.

As kids at Junior School we were often told the tale of Gelert the dog.  He belonged to  Llywelyn the Great,, a Welsh Prince, and was his favourite hunting dog.  However one day Llywelyn comes home to find his infant son's room ransacked, and his son missing.  But there is his dog Gelert covered in blood.

So Llywelyn draws his sword, and kills Gelert there and then.  But the dog's dying yelp causes the hidden child to cry.  Looking around the room, he sees in actual fact there's a dead wolf in the room, and Gelert has died protecting his son.

Overcome with remorse for what he's done, he builds a memorial to the dog, and curses his rashness for the rest of his life.  When Mr Barrett told that story there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

This teaches us not to act rashly, and indeed acting rashly is worse than indecision.   It's good to want to know more before making a decision, but how long do you leave it?  Collecting more and more and more information on any task does not mean in the end you're actually achieving, eventually it means you're wasting time and not actually doing anything.

Another Way

Sooner or later you have to make a leap of faith.

Ironically the longer you leave making a decision, the bigger that decision will have to be, and the more critical it'll be you make the right one.

Make decisions early, try to make their impact small, review them regularly.  If they're wrong you'll still have time, and almost always something is salvageable.  It sounds like I'm going all Agile again, and maybe I am.

Just don't be a Foxhole Norman ...


  1. But doesn't Agile and Lean tell us to leave decisions to the last responsible moment? Maybe by 'longer' you mean PAST the last responsible moment. I'm totally on board with working in small increments so that if we go wrong on something, it's easy and fast to fix.

  2. Lisa - thank you so much for that comment.

    Although I think there is a "golden mean" between rash decisions and indecision ... I think maybe some people who I might consider "indecisive" feel we've not past that "responsible moment".

    I guess this means there's a need to communicate and have communicated and a common concencus on where the "responsible moment" lies.