TITLE: The Psychology of Long Runs and Long Iterations
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: November 21, 2004 11:23 AM
DESC: How much is running a twelve-miler like a long iteration in software?
This morning I went out for a 12-mile run. That's my usual
Sunday morning run when I'm not training for a marathon,
part of my "maintenance mileage" year 'round. But before
today I had run this far only once since
running the Des Moines Marathon,
plus I've been dragging a bit from running faster the last
couple of weeks. So this morning I planned for a little
long slow distance,
though both can lead to out-of-body experiences.
Forty-eight minutes into the run, I felt a little discouraged.
I still had a little over an hour to go! But then I thought,
you run almost 48 minutes even on your shortest days; what's
the big deal? The big deal was that that second thing: I
still had a little over an hour to go. The psychology of a
long run is much different than the psychology of a short run.
That's what makes marathons so challenging.
Then I got to thinking about the psychology of long and
short runs in software development. I wonder if the short
iterations encouraged by agile methodologies help to buttress
the morale of developers on those days and projects that
leave them feeling down? I've certainly worked on traditional
software projects where the thought of another six months
before a release seemed quite daunting. Working from a state
of relative uncertainty is no fun. On agile projects, we
at least get to issue releases more frequently and incorporate
feedback from the customer into the next iterations.
Sometimes, running requires endurance. If you want to run
a marathon, then you had better get ready to run for 3, 4,
or 5 hours. I suppose that big software projects require
stamina, too. A year-long project will take a year whether
done in many short releases or in one big one. But the
closer horizon of short iterations can be comforting,
even without considering the value of continuous feedback.
With my mind occupied thinking about software and psychology,
pretty soon my run was over. I was tired, as expected, and
a little stiff. But I felt good for having done 12. My
next 45-minute iteration happens on Tuesday.