Teams and Caterpillar Tracks

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I'm really terrible at somehow always thinking of the absolute worst metaphores for situations and concepts I encounter at work. The latest one that came to mind is about how teams should operate a bit like caterpillar tracks (you know, those things that tanks or backhoes drive on!)

For background context, the hot topic that our team has been battling as of late is context switching, also known as the most challenging problem that most software engineering teams have to deal with.

As a team, we want to be able to triage inbounds when it makes sense to do so, but in general we should still strive to move forward on our plans and roadmap.

As individuals on the team, it helps to also have stints of working on the same problem to enter into the focus zone and build up momentum.

You might be wondering where the connection to caterpillar tracks comes in - and I don't blame you, this is a really abstract metaphor. The connection my brain made was that the individual tracks within a set of caterpillar tracks can be imagined as an individual of the team.

When they hit the ground they stick there while the team (the vehicle) moves forward, meaning they shouldn't be pulled from their work unless the vehicle needs to change direction. Often also the team members can stay working on what they're doing for the most part and not be impacted when the team changes direction.

Then when they've finished their work, they can pick up the next most important task - whether thats continuing on with the existing work, or helping to turn (even slightly) the team as a whole to solving a critical inbound request.

Maybe this metaphor doesn't really make sense, but really at the end of the day I strongly believe that the team should strive to avoid context switching at all costs. Continuously switching tasks is a bit like turning 45 degrees every minute in opposite directions and hoping that you make progress but all you really end up doing is driving in a long zig-zag.