Posts Tagged ‘Robert Pirsig’

The WTF? Metric

Lo and behold! It’s the monstrously famous iron triangle:

Iron Triangle

Even though all three critical project factors should be respected equally, BD00 put “schedule” on top because the unspoken rule is “schedule is king” in many orgs.

Everyone who’s ever worked on an important, non-boondoggle, project has heard or spoken words like these:

“I’m concerned that we’re exceeding the budget.”

“I’m afraid that we won’t meet the schedule commitment.”

But how many people have heard words like these:

“I fear that our product quality won’t meet our customer’s expectations.”

Ok, so you have heard them, but stop raining on my parade and let’s not digress.

The reason that quality concerns are mentioned so infrequently relative to cost and schedule is that the latter two objective project attributes are easily tracked by measuring the universally accepted “money” and “time” metrics. There is no single, universally accepted objective quality metric. If you don’t believe BD00, then just ask Robert Pirsig.

To raise quality up to the level of respectability that schedule and cost enjoy, BD00 proposes a new metric for measuring quality: the “WTF?“. To start using the metric, first convince all your people to not be afraid of repercussions and encourage them to blurt out “WTF?” every time they see some project aspect that violates their aesthetic sense of quality. Then, have them doggedly record the number and frequency of “WTF?”s they hear as the project progresses.

Before you know it, you’ll have a nice little histogram to gauge the quality of your project portfolio. Then you’ll be able to…, uh, you’ll be able to… do something with the data?

WTF Histo

Forrest Gumption

March 16, 2013 4 comments

A gumption trap is an event or mindset that can cause a person to lose enthusiasm and become discouraged from starting or continuing a project. – Wikipedia

Some people credit Robert Pirsig with coining the term “gumption trap“. In his inimitable book, “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance“, he wrote a brilliant section classifying, listing, and explaining a gaggle of gumption traps. Two in particular stood out to BD00: anxiety and boredom.


You’re so sure you’ll do everything wrong you’re afraid to do anything at all. Often this, rather than “laziness,” is the real reason you find it hard to get started. This gumption trap of anxiety, which results from overmotivation, can lead to all kinds of errors of excessive fussiness. You fix things that don’t need fixing, and chase after imaginary ailments. You jump to wild conclusions and build all kinds of errors into the machine software because of your own nervousness. These errors, when made, tend to confirm your original underestimation of yourself. This leads to more errors, which lead to more underestimation, in a self-stoking cycle. The best way to break this cycle, I think, is to work out your anxieties on paper. Read every book and magazine you can on the subject. Your anxiety makes this easy and the more you read the more you calm down. You should remember that it’s peace of mind you’re after and not just a fixed machine high quality software. When beginning a repair job you can list everything you’re going to do on little slips of paper which you then organize into proper sequence. You discover that you organize and then reorganize the sequence again and again as more and more ideas come to you. The time spent this way usually more than pays for itself in time saved on the machine project and prevents you from doing fidgety things that create problems later on.


Boredom is the opposite of anxiety and commonly goes with ego problems. Boredom means you’re off the Quality track, you’re not seeing things freshly, you’ve lost your “beginner’s mind” and your motorcycle project is in great danger. Boredom means your gumption supply is low and must be replenished before anything else is done.

BD00 gets ensnared in the anxiety-gumption-trap whenever he finds himself marooned inside his head ruminating over a concern. On the other hand, BD00 rarely gets caught up in the boredom-gumption-trap. Not because he’s conquered his big, fat, ego, but because his curiosity and longing for understanding never wanes. He can’t even remember the last time he was bored. And to BD00, that’s a good thing.

How about you, dear reader? Which of these diametrically opposed gumption traps are you most susceptible to?


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