Who Cares the Most?

by Andrew Haust

There’s a pretty great term in the software industry called “bike shedding”. My short definition is: “Getting caught up in the low stakes decisions that everyone seems to have an opinion on”. There’s an explanation of how it got its name here, but the headline version is Team Spends Entire Day Arguing Over What Colour to Paint the Bike Shed They are Supposed to be Building.

Some examples include:

All of these questions are super low stakes and whatever’s decided isn’t important. Yet they are still decisions that need to be made and should be made with as little discussion as possible. Unfortunately, many folks have a hard time achieving this.

For what it’s worth, I do think being a minute late is considered late. And no, I’m not much fun at parties. Why do you ask?

So who cares the most?

A former colleague of mine was really good at catching our team mid-bike shed and calling it out. He would say, “Ok, who cares the most?” We would all then throw between zero and five fingers representing how much we cared about the outcome of the debate at hand. Whoever had the most fingers up would make the decision, then and there. And it was never discussed again.

This worked really well for us. In fact, we only really used this trick a few times during our storming phase. After that, our bike shedding sessions became very rare. This was also because we learned how to identify deciders up front, but that is a topic for another post.


Waitaminnit... what did you do in the event of a tie??

– You, probably

Good question! Unfortunately for this little blog post, we never had a tie, so I can only give you an idealist, hand-wavy answer. While I’m not saying a tie can’t happen, I feel like it would be rare. This is because I found that being asked bluntly and earnestly if I actually cared forced me to take quick stock of three things: a) how much am I just getting caught up in the debate?, b) who is clearly more obsessed with the outcome than I?, and c) would it truly be so horrible to live with someone else’s decision? I’ll even admit that I was once the loudest debater and yet ended up throwing the least number of fingers.

As with anything hard in life, there is no silver bullet. I’m also making the rather dangerous assumption that your team is made up of semi-mature adults who aren’t actively working against each other. If you’re dealing with such a situation, you have bigger problems as well as my sympathy. I will say that I found Who cares the most to be something of a small bonding exercise that helped to build trust, so no matter how your team gets along you could always try it out next time you find yourselves in a bike shed session.

…or don’t—I certainly won’t care 🙃