Do What Hurts

A long time ago I heard a manager at a company say that if something is hard, we ought to practice it more and find ways to make it easy. Barring that, we ought to at least be comfortable with the task. I’m not sure if this manager made this up or read it somewhere, but it’s the same thought expressed by Martin Fowler in this post: “if it hurts, do it more often.”

I’m not sure that’s the advice I want to use with everything. When my shins hurt from running, or my shoulder aches after hitting a number of volleyballs, often I want to take a break. At the same time, I know that stopping isn’t always the productive thing. I can slow down and build up some strength and things will get better. My long running streak started with slow jogs for short distances, slowly building up the strength in my muscles and joints. Regularly hitting volleyballs and slowly increasing the number I hit allows me to get more done without hurting myself.

At the same time, putting a hand on a hot stove doesn’t get better, no matter how slowly I increase the heat over time. There are some things that aren’t worth doing more often to get better, but building software is one where we can get better. Our practice does improve skill, quality, and ability if you practice well. We can decompose our problems easily, we can work in steps, and we can (relatively) easily alter our course of work if we need to do so. In fact, quite a few of the software methodologies adopted in the last 20 years are designed to improve the entire process be ensuring we adapt our work to the customer with regular pauses to evaluate our progress.

When the pain of delays (procrastination) grows, we should find ways to reduce the hassles. Often the pain comes from difficulties, and when that is the case, we might do what Martin Fowler suggests: do it more frequently.

It works well for databases, as he points out in his post, though I’d caution the data professionals to consider the details in his post. Decompose the problems and make the changes across multiple steps, not all at once. When you do that, make sure you plan for pauses in the various stages, not just stringing together multiple scripts into one transaction. That will help you evolve the database along with the application while ensuring your customers can continue working as you make changes.

Steve Jones

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About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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