💭 The Everything is a Giant Project Mentality

One of the reasons why, in large organizations, small tasks grow into giant projects that take ages to complete.

The meme is that we, as developers, constantly underestimate how long it takes to implement a particular feature. But in my experience, there is a second phenomenon, which, at first glance, seems like going counter to the first one. In certain circumstances, especially in larger organizations, we tend to make everything a giant project, and we make things take much longer than they should. In a way, we overestimate how much work something really is, but at the same time, we make sure that our estimate is accurate or even exceeded.

It goes something like this: somebody has an idea for a slight improvement or a tiny new feature. Instead of trying it out and implementing it within an hour or two, our default assumption is that this change must be a considerable undertaking. So we first have to talk to 10 different people and then, best case, add it to the backlog for the next sprint.

I call this phenomenon the Everything is a Giant Project Mentality. In my experience, this way of thinking does not exist in startup employees (especially not in founders) and is more prevalent in larger companies.

The Origins

With most startups, there is nothing until somebody works on it, then there is something. It is easy to see if somebody is really productive or merely busy.

In larger companies, with all their existing features and services, progress is less visible. But it is easy to communicate how busy you are: You had to do this and that, organize 5 meetings, and it is hard to work with the people of department Z, you complain to your boss. And your boss thinks: Wow, this person must work really hard to get stuff done.

Companies add more and more specific roles, and everyone has to prove that they're legit. Which leads to many more people and roles need to signal that they're busy and important. So everyone requests a seat at the table to contribute their share of bikeshedding.

The hidden challenge of speeding something up is that someone else's job might depend on it going slow.

Mark Dalgleish

Fixing the Problem

I think the first step to fixing this problem is to realize that we are most likely part of it, and it's not solely a problem of the company or those people. We ask for a seat at the table, even though people would probably be more efficient without us, offering our unparalleled wisdom. We tend to make things more complicated as they are because we're incentivized to make it seem like everything we do is very complicated and hard. We need to stop that. As soon as we spot those problems in our behavior, we can try to help others do the same and ultimately improve the processes that solidify this behavior.

I wonder if this results from the common practice of paying people by the hour instead of based on results. But also I recognize that other forms of determining wages all have severe downsides too. Furthermore, I also think that some slow-down because of more sophisticated processes and more people involved is unavoidable.

Just Do It!

Sometimes, it's better not to ask if we're supposed to do this or that. Instead, if you think something is a good idea: proof that it is and just do it. But don't be a dick!

It’s Easier To Ask Forgiveness Than To Get Permission.