Stop bikeshedding in software engineering

Stop bikeshedding in software engineering

Written by David Abram

Bikeshedding, also known as Parkinson's Law of Triviality, is a phenomenon where a group of people spends a disproportionate amount of time and energy on relatively trivial matters while neglecting more important issues.

The term "bikeshedding" comes from a story in C. Northcote Parkinson's book "Parkinson's Law," where a committee is tasked with approving the design for a nuclear power plant, but instead spends most of its time discussing the design of the employee bike shed.

Bikeshedding can happen in any group setting, whether it's a corporate board meeting, a community organization, or a software development team meeting. When people feel overwhelmed by complex or abstract issues, they tend to focus on smaller, more manageable problems. Unfortunately, this leads to a situation where people spend an inordinate amount of time on trivial issues.

Imagine a team of software developers working on a new app. They could spend hours debating the color scheme or font choices while neglecting to address larger issues like user experience or security.

To avoid bikeshedding, it's important to recognize when it's happening and take steps to prevent it.

Tips to prevent bikeshedding

Keep the focus on the big picture: When discussing a project or problem, start with the most important issues first. This will establish priorities and keep the group focused on what really matters.

Set clear goals and timelines: Establish clear goals and timelines for the project or discussion. This keeps the group on track and prevents them from getting bogged down in the minutiae.

Encourage constructive criticism: Encourage the group to ask critical questions and voice concerns about the bigger issues in an organized way.

Limit discussion time: Set a time limit for each discussion topic and stick to it. This prevents the group from spending too much time on trivial issues.

By recognizing the occurrences of bikeshedding and taking previously mentioned steps to prevent it, you can ensure that your group stays focused on the bigger issues and achieves its goals more efficiently.