Taking your project through the Door into Summer

In 1957 Robert A. Heinlein published what might be considered one of the definitive works from the golden era of science fiction. The puzzling title of The Door into Summer apparently derived from a casual remark by Heinlein’s wife that their cat couldn’t be persuaded to exit the house through its hatch if it saw snow on the ground outside, it preferred instead to wait for a “doorway into summer”. Heinlein, I suppose, felt this was an apt analogy for time travel which formed the central plot device for the story.

Like Heinlein’s cat, an effective software team stays firmly rooted in the present. Stopping only to burn the boats that would return them to the past they reject the door that would lead them on a death march to a bleak, wintery future.

Upon starting each new day in a software project, the team members are only concerned with what they have to achieve on that day to keep the project moving forward. They break the project up into ever smaller tasks and knock them off one by one. A completed project is nothing more than an accumulation of a huge number of small tasks.

It’s not uncommon for project managers to feel an impending sense of doom when their thoughts stray to the future and all the big things that are yet to be done. This can lead to a sort of mental gridlock which spreads and overwhelms the entire team. Breaking free requires a return to the present and getting stuck into the little tasks that make up the whole. The project manager must constantly be asking “what can I do today to move the project forward?”

Focusing on helping everyone getting their daily quota of little things done and not being distracted by the enormity of the next milestone is a stress free path which will take your project through the door into summer.

Do that and the only cold thing to be found through your own personal door into summer is a frosty beer handed to you by a happy client.

NOTE: I originally wrote this article for publication on apcmag.com, it is reproduced here with some minor modification.