Roadblocks or Mirages?

In the world of software development, we are constantly hitting (what we perceive as) roadblocks. This experience is universal across almost every team, department, and company. Fundamentally, a roadblock is something that stops progress or acts as a hinderance. In the case of my colleagues in software development, most roadblocks emerge from fork in the roads as an either/or situation. In these situations, the perception of a roadblock is critical, as switching viewpoints on the roadblock may be the ticket past it.

Real-Life Examples
Here’s an example. Recently, a colleague came to me with two tasks that were assigned to him, and asked me which one needed to be completed first. One project required a deploy of highly critical infrastructure changes live (and required him to stay after hours) while the other demanded completion in order to unblock other team members. Both tasks were of equal high priority and would hold back the whole project if they were to be completed sequentially. This team member felt like he was at a fork in the road. He didn’t want to disappoint at either task, which caused him to experience a mental roadblock that appeared insurmountable. He had reached the point where he was about to throw in the towel, fearing he could only do one successfully. 

To be fair, I am a culprit of that thinking as much as anyone. Here’s a parallel situation: The other week, I had been presented with all the features that needed to be released as part of a new product and, in my mind, I had to either cut features or delay the launch. At that moment, I was stuck. These either/or situations can cause a lot of anguish, frustration, anxiety or fear and pull us toward inaction and cause real roadblocks in our projects.

“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”Michael Jordan

I have learned a helpful trick when I am facing an either/or situation. Simply replace the word “or” with “and”. Once I told myself that I needed to release all the features “and” have the release go out on time, a very different pathway opened. I charted the resources for each feature, and figured out what additional resources I could borrow. I analyzed the risk factors to position the project for success, and then I communicated the plan to the team.

When I informed my colleague that both projects needed to be completed on time, we were able to identify other team members who were blocked and willing to help alongside adjusting their work schedule. Our efforts were rewarded not only by completion of the projects but an increased team morale as well.

Key Takeaway
We are all bound by our own perspectives on situations. Simply changing one word in a sentence from “or” to “and” doesn’t change reality, but it allows the brain to look at the problem from a different perspective and find a breakthrough solution. Add this technique to your arsenal to see what impact this line of thinking might have on your current and future projects. When you see the difference, you’ll want to spread the word so your team get more projects done and with a higher standard for quality.

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