Discipline: Something Rare And Respected.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about discipline. It is a respectable virtue, both in personal and business settings, and I think it is one of the key lynch pins in developing software in an agile manner.

I'd like to first argue that discipline is less and less required or expected in the modern workplace due to the erosion of objective standards of quality. I'm channeling Matt Crawford's Shop Class as Soul Craft here. In it he writes:

At issue in the contrast between office work and the manual trades is the idea of individual responsibility, tied to the presence or absence of objective standards.

Whereas relying on someone to nail something together by some time, for example, can be quite important, and failing to do so could even be life threatening, missing a meeting or not completing certain knowledge work by a certain time appears to be somewhat forgivable. Why?

Perhaps the lack of clear outcomes is to blame. If the house falls down (to paraphrase a similar example) then something was not completed properly. On the other hand, if the project is delayed or has a bug, the root cause can not be so readily exposed; rather it is "culture" or "team dynamics" that could be to blame. I believe because of the inability or difficulty in holding personal responsibility at each step of the way, we begin to tolerate a lack of personal discipline and instead, seek refuge in the safe scapegoat of the "team."

Secondly, I'd like to highlight the methods of a friend who holds his friends to a high degree of accountability and something that after initial surprise, I have come to respect. He runs a poker game at his house on an alternating basis and it begins at 7:30pm. He has a simple rule that for every 5 minutes a person is late, the equivalent of 1 dollar is deducted from their chip stack. No harsh words, and no penalties incurred if previous arrangements are made, just a simple repercussion for lack of discipline.

I think we should look to this example, and consider ways in which we can hold each other to our word in a respectable manner. Additionally, we should be encouraged to adjust plans along the way. To end this pontification, I'll leave you with some guidelines:

  1. Be fast and up-front with any situations that could delay or alter a pre-existing commitment.
  2. Call people out for missed commitments in a respectable manner.
  3. Expect to be called out if you miss a commitment.
  4. Above all, be honest with yourself and don't make commitments you know are unreasonable or will have difficulty meeting.

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