The inspiration for this month's column is Robert Frost's 1915 same-named poem. The poem's text may be found here:, as well as a reading guide here: Already, you may be thinking that on the title alone, this month's column is serious. but the poem was anything but. As the associated guide explains, Frost liked to say that “I'm never more serious than when joking.” That statement can be taken multiple ways. Generally, Frost's statement requires us to confront the fact that some ways may conflict with each other, and both can still be true. We might choose only one way despite wishing we could easily avail ourselves of both choices, even for only a brief time. It's the stuff that makes decision-making so difficult. Let's dig into it.

Fundamentally, what we do, how we do it, and the way we do it begins with making decisions, whether big or small. The past 3.5 years since the COVID pandemic began has been what can be reasonably summed-up as “living in interesting times.” In Chinese philosophy, peace and tranquility, from an English idiomatic point of view, are “not interesting.” The implication is that chaos is interesting. And therein lies the irony and what some have attributed to an ancient Chinese curse. And as it turns out, Frost's poem was meant as an ironic dig at a friend. Ironic or not and as misunderstood as it may be, the poem has always had a special meaning for me. What something means in the eye of the beholder is part of what art is about. It's a matter of perception, which is determined by what we value. For many, including myself, the last 3.5 years have had a big knock-on effect to what we value. And what we value goes to how we view the recent past.

For some, what's transpired , whether it's the pandemic itself, our response to it, or some combination has been clear and simple to understand. At the same time, others may have quite different perceptions ranging from complicated, to complex, to chaotic, and even confusion. From my perspective, all these domains could have applied at one time or another. Much has gone on that is of interest, grabs our attention, and engages us, often to the point of fatigue. What makes something “Interesting” is unique to each person because our perceptions are influenced by our cumulative experiences to that point.

Everyone has biases. It's just a fact of life. We should endeavor to understand them because our individual perceptions and biases can not only influence the decisions we make, but how we view the context within which those decisions need to be made. After what may have been a challenging decision, how many times have you lamented “I should have chosen another option?” As someone who has undergone much self-examination during this same 3.5 years, such rumination is a waste of time. It is a waste of time because things just learned weren't previously known.

And yet we quite often beat ourselves up for not having been clairvoyant in the past. We need to ask different questions. Perhaps the best question is how can we improve the conditions for future decisions? Improving conditions for the future is the primary objective of any plan. The uncertainty of the future coupled with uncertain present information and how we each perceive a problem domain makes our work today more challenging than ever. It can be exceptionally challenging when there isn't the ability to make any sort of decision, great or small, no matter the significance, and no matter how favorable the conditions are to make what many might call a “slam dunk” easy decision to make. That's what Frost's poem was mockingly about: His friend struggles with decision-making.

We live in interesting and complicated times where we're bombarded with too much information and we need to make a quick decision, or we're confronted with a dearth of information and we need to make a quick decision. Either way, we're often forced to make quick decisions regardless of how available and reliable meaningful information is. Which road to choose? How do we go about that process?

The Danish philosopher and father of Existentialism S�ren Kierkegaard taught us in his 1843 work “Either/Or” that picking and choosing are not necessarily the same thing. In one sense, I may decide to pick 12 tomatoes from a basket. In that process of determining which 12, I'll choose the ones that I find to be optimal…...if I have time. On the other hand, if I'm rushed, whether due to lack of planning or because the new task is a bona-fide emergent matter, I may just have to pick the best 12 I can under the circumstances. The result may be satisfactory despite the sub-optimal or unknown task context. Or the result may be a total disaster.

Not choosing is choosing. Making significant decisions to choose among alternatives involves some level of conflict because we're forced to confront the risk of making decisions based on imperfect and incomplete information. It's just a fact of life because we can't possibly know everything about everything at any time. This is the practical reality of things. The reality of things often requires us to pay close attention to the ethics of the choice, rather than the aesthetics of how it makes things look. For example, “All the cool kids are writing in React now, so we'll do that!”

And how does the angst of having to make a choice get dealt with? Often by not making the affirmative choice and, instead, waiting for things to take their course. This is what complacency looks and sounds like. The root of that complacency is often borne of fear. You may be familiar with the phrase “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM stock.” That may be. But I'm quite sure that at least one person got fired who did buy IBM's products. Breaking it all down, it's unavoidable that decisions must be made, each with its own amount of risk and uncertainty.

Eventually, the path we're on requires choosing from two divergent paths, thus requiring us to change the path we're on. The question of how do we do that by ourselves and as part of a team has been nagging at me for quite some time. It's my practice area of Agile and DevOps that has me confronting these questions with renewed scrutiny over the past several years. It seems that we live in an ecosystem of this tool or that, this process or that, etc. these days. In retrospect, process and tool debates are nothing new. Perhaps for me, it's because of the road I kept taking, which was the first big realization for me. That road for me was well-worn and well-known. If I were going to stay on that road, that was on me. If I were going to take the other road, that was on me too. As either way it's on me, it seems obvious that I should choose the one that appears to be reliably more interesting, more meaningful, and more engaging.

Although a little chaos may be “interesting,” maybe that road is too well worn. How about some peace and tranquility? That's when I decided to peel back the onion layers in search of a new road. To get out of my rut, I've decided to return to the road not taken in quite some time. It's the road of basics and fundamentals. Not matter how big or small a project is, if the fundamentals aren't sound, it's akin to building on a sand foundation. Lately, like many others, I've been reassessing what Agile is, what it means to me, what the associated frameworks are, how we go about practicing it, evangelizing it, implementing it, etc. In these pages, at one time or another, I've quoted another famous Dane named Niels Bohr. One of his fundamentals was that no matter how complex the topic, the topic should be explainable in plain simple language. With that background in mind, I began to assess what was the most primary, basic thing I could focus on in the Agile/DevOps space. Soon thereafter, I recalled a three-word phrase that every DevOps practitioner knows: People, Process, and Tools.

The answer was staring me in the face. It's the people. How important are people? Labor is the essential element that capital requires to enable production and produce value. Each of us, in this technical space, does so in the realm of the real world, not the world as we would wish it to be. The lens through which we each view the world has bearing on whether we perceive a problem domain as being clear, complex, complicated, chaotic, or completely unmoored as a state of confusion. Indeed, one person's obvious may be another person's confusion! As team members and fellow humans, we should take stock of those perceptions and the differences between perceptions. There may be nothing else that goes more toward team dynamics than how these various perceptions are acknowledged and reconciled. This model discussed here on how we perceive a problem domain is the basic thesis of David Snowden's Cynefin Framework

Presuming that a firm wishes to adopt a more “people-centric” approach, the question is how to enable that effort. One major issue to address, especially given the past 3.5 years, is the notion of psychological safety at work. Are people encouraged to speak their minds? Is it safe to admit mistakes? Are risks encouraged, without fear of negative consequences? One of the foremost experts in this field is Professor Amy Edmondson of Harvard University. In November/December 2016, Ted Neward also wrote in CODE Magazine about the necessity of psychological safety in the context of building strong teams.

Referencing again the basic phrase People, Process, and Tools, assuming that we can move the organization sufficiently along and because we live in the real world, pragmatism must take hold. There must be some process and tooling, even if rudimentary, that's compatible with personnel and required use-cases that can enable strong teams.

Referencing again the Agile space and Scrum in particular, one general task that's rife with inaccuracies is estimation. Too often, we're called upon to provide a single, static number. Also, estimations tend to only be from one perspective: effort. What about value? How about costs or complexity? To add to all of that, there's the remote work dynamic, with teams distributed across many time zones and continents. How are teams supposed to collaborate in such cases?

Fortunately, I found a tool and an associated process methodology, this time from some Danes you haven't heard of: Agile Lean House: One of their tools, Cool Estimation ( addresses the issues listed above with traditional agile estimation. It's also this small shop that has managed to put together, in a quite original and people-centric manner, how the Cynefin Framework (and other decision frameworks) and Professor Edmondson's philosophy may apply to a particular agile implementation. If any of that only sounds moderately interesting, check out their Agemba tool that, among other things, can illustrate dependencies across multiple epics/stories and multiple teams Dependencies among things, whether large, like organizations, or small, like application modules, are important to understand, as those things are often a prime source of technical debt. It's important to get transparency and visibility on these matters, not only for benefit of a project, but for the people as well, and thereby, the entire organization.

In that spirt of human- and people-centeredness, Agile Lean House is doing important work for university students at Ukraine's Kiev National University by providing these war-displaced folks training for the day when this war is over. The work sets about to rebuild a country's infrastructure. I learned that their spirit is still largely intact when I participated in one of these two-day sessions. Although I've trained many students before, this was a new road for me. By simply going back to basics, perhaps just pausing, stepping back, and assessing, it's amazing what you can find!

Examine the road you're on. Always ask yourself why you're contemplating a change in the first place. This time, I chose a different road and it made all the difference. And if you can't choose, then just pick the other road, and move on. No matter where you're going, you'll get there.

In the face of other people's disagreement, I like to cite the Dude from the Big Lebowski as an appropriate response: “Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.” Maybe the real lesson isn't in how we make decisions, but whether there is a decision to be made in the first place? Sometimes, we just need to get off the dime to get out of the rut. And if you're wondering how to do that, ping me and let's talk. I only ask that you pay it forward someday. Sometimes, we just need to ask for help along the way. And to that, there needs to be someone on the other end to pick up the call. Every good thing that ever happened began with a conversation and comity among different people. Let's constitute ourselves and our service to others toward that worthwhile and most interesting end. I look forward to that road. Hygge!

At no time was any form of AI considered or used in this article's preparation and writing.