The Smell of Frustration

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Maybe you’ve heard of the term code smell. It was coined by Kent Beck.

A code smell is “any characteristic in the source code of a program that possibly indicates a deeper problem. Determining what is and is not a code smell is subjective, and varies by language, developer, and development methodology.” . Or so says Wikipedia.

Now, there are not just code smells. There are also other kind of smells: organisational, or cultural, or whatever else.

There’s one famous smell that’s so pervasive that we’ve almost become desensitised to it: frustration.

I’m sure you’re frequently frustrated by things big or small.

That’s life, right? Sure, it is.

Many sources of frustration are just part of “life” like that: the coffee machine is empty again, it’s raining, your favourite football team did a terrible job yet again, and you might consider calling their coach and telling them how to do their job.

But there are other frustrations: your calender is bursting with meetings, product delivery is late again, or you can’t get ahold of that colleague whose input you’d need.

To me, those kinds of frustrations are examples of smells. It has become fashionable to complain about an overabundance of meetings – so why do they get booked? Why don’t you decline them? What’s going on here?

I can’t tell you how to react to these smells – but I urge you to not just accept them.

I’ve met surprisingly many people who essentially didn’t find the time to rid themselves of superfluous meetings: because they were stuck in meetings.

Impediments to product development come in many forms, but the most common ones are caused by imperfections in how people interact and communicate.

So I say: be happy if notice you’re frustrated!

Because this is a valuable signal. You’ve discovered something that’s not right. Don’t ignore that signal (“work is just hard”). Embrace it, think about what it means.

And look for chances to discover and rid yourself of such frustrations: it’ll make both your life, and your product better.

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