Bike Shed Example

I had never heard of the this until I read this post. To sum it up in a few words the “Bike Shed Example,” formally knows as Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, states that “organisations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues“.

I had never really noticed this before but after I learned about this I see it all the time. I was slightly shocked that I’d never really noticed this before. I started to think about this. I even noticed myself and the group I work with doing this all the time. Why do we do this though?

My take on this differs slightly from the argument given in Wikipedia. I think we do this because humans like the feeling of accomplishing something. Recently I was involved in a discussion where we were talking about how to implement threads and a thread manager in the application I was building. We spent a few minutes on it and them moved on to the next issue without actually deciding on a solution. That seems strange. Threading is a very complex task to undertake so why wouldn’t we want to decide on a solution? I think this is because coming up with the final solution is very difficult and will take much time and thought. There isn’t much instant gratification in deciding on a solution.

A little while later the group was discussing another feature and we spent probably at least 30 minutes discussing button placement and text. This is definitely trivial in comparison to threading. But after thirty minutes we had decided on a solution; we had accomplished something. This I believe is the key point. We didn’t mind discussing the buttons at length because we knew in the end we would have a solution.

Time to accomplish something is important to us humans. In the threading example it could easily take a day of brainstorming and designing to come up with a solution. The thirty minute discussion about buttons gives us that feeling of accomplishment in 1/16th the time (using an 8 hour work day).

Something to think about next time your group is in a drawn out discussion.

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