Maybe someone moved the hydro wires – Paddling and Projects (7)

Two short lessons in this blog.

  • First, test your assumptions, the simplest explanation is usually correct
  • Second, know what your most important tradeoffs are

This story gets repeated every time there is a question of exactly where we are.  The first time the canoe group went to Quetico, a park in the north-west of Ontario near the Manitoba border, the lakes were bigger than we were used to, and by the time that we had crossed a lake, they weren’t sure which Bay they were in.  The portages in Quetico aren’t marked, so you really need to figure it out from the map and your surroundings.  That didn’t stop people from having strong opinions about where they were.

One person was insistent that we had to be in a bay that the map showed power transmission  lines running across.  There were no wires to be seen.  He was so confident he was right he argued that ‘maybe someone moved the hydro lines’.

Which is the most likely:  that the wires were moved in the middle of nowhere, or that some one isn’t where they think?

We all get blinded by our assumptions. We need to validate them constantly; we need to take in new information, and we need to admit that the most simple answer is usually correct.  And when we are lost or wrong, we can’t keep justifying our position with more and more outrageous assumptions. Instead we adjust our position as new data comes to light.

Tradeoffs – don’t take cheap chocolate into the woods

On the canoe trip,  we eat (expensive) Lindt Chocolate as a treat after dinner.  The cheeses we snack on at lunch are double smoked gouda,  or 10—year plus aged cheddars.  I couldn’t believe it one time when we pulled out a hunk of cheese – the same size as a large cheddar you might buy at the supermarket – and someone remarked it was $50 worth of memolet.  It is delicious, by the way, and we take it with us every time now.

The pancakes get real maple syrup.


After camp is set up, we’re more likely to drink Vodka or single Malt scotch than wine.

When you have to carry everything in a pack on your back, the ratio of weight and size (or density) to pleasure and/or utility become the most important tradeoffs.  A trip is only 4-5 days so splurging on more expensive, smaller items won’t break the bank.  And if you want to relax with a drink at the end of the day, it is better to drink some Vodka and water (or Tang) from the lake than lug five times the volume of wine or even worse – beer. There are space limitations in the canoe, too.

Similarly, in your project, know what’s most important to the team. To the business.  What can be traded off to get the maximum value within the budget.  Often businesses try to constrain everything.

I want it fast; I want it cheap; I want it great, and I want unlimited scope.  For a fixed price. Its not realistic.  There are always tradeoffs.

One of the great benefits of Agile techniques – and how these 2 lessons tie together – is the ability to constantly adjust priorities based on new information. Each sprint or iteration is an option to reset, refocus on what’s most important. But to do that, you need to be aware and not blinded by your assumptions, and you need to know what’s most important and what can be traded off.




Published by

Mark Dymond, P.Eng

With over 20 years of consulting experience I've worked with clients in the banking, retail, travel and government sectors. Based in Toronto, Canada, currently I lead the Cloud consulting team for IBM Canada. I've led successful project and program teams in Canada, the US, and Europe of more than 200 people. Thoughts, comments and mistakes are most definitely my own!

2 thoughts on “Maybe someone moved the hydro wires – Paddling and Projects (7)”

  1. The only thing I would add, Mark, is that you also have to know what you can’t tradeoff. There are things that the business absolutely must have, and things that your team absolutely must have. Everything else is negotiable.
    One client I worked with, when I was trying to figure out where that line was for the business and we were discussing some particularly complex requirements, netted it out to “if it was easy, I would do it myself in a spreadsheet. It’s not. That’s why you’re here.” Once we each understood why certain things were not negotiable, we were able to deliver a solution that everyone was satisfied with.

    Liked by 1 person

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