2 thoughts on “Idols of the Schema: Ignoring Data While Overvaluing Ideas

  1. Thank you, Michael, for the term! This concept has come up a few times lately – it’s hard to discuss a thing until one can name it… Doctor Who, exhibits this with alien monsters.

    May I ask if I’ve applied the label “idol of the schema” properly to the dialogue/debate that has raged on Twitter for a few years now labeled #NoEstimates? While I find the dialogue interesting and love a good debate (respectful exchange of ideas, positions, assumptions, projected outcomes, etc) as much as the next pig in the mud… I’ve found the reality of the situation to be that the business often needs an estimate; that it is our duty to produce an estimate when requested, to explain the constraints and assumptions in good-faith.

    I believe the practices of estimating is exemplar of bound form – eg “idols of the schema is overvaluing the free form when the bound form is in front of us throwing off data about whether it works or not.” Estimating works and is proven, data is abundant. Yet the “free form” is enticing…

    • It’s not clear to me that software development estimation actually works very well. And it’s very expensive to get, possibly not to our benefit. I routinely make back-of-the-envelope guesses about the size or difficulty or schedule of some feature or story, of course, and I can’t imagine not doing so. Taking those SWAGs (Scientific Wild-Assed Guesses) as the basis for large-scale planning seems like a dangerous act. I believe that the idols of the schema here lie at least as much on the side of pro-estimate forces. When good-faith assumptions and projected outcomes are routinely ignored in practice, it becomes difficult for me to advocate a policy of creating estimates based on them in theory.

      On the other hand, you may have noticed that I never participate in #NoEstimates conversations. That’s not an accident or oversight. I don’t participate in hashtagged conversations much at all. I find idea-branding, and these hashtags are the beginning of it, an enterprise whose value is greatly overrated, one that usually results in an entire carnival of idols of the schema, and one that seems to lead inexorably away from serious, reasoned, valuable, discourse. I am, to be blunt, sick of their ubiquity in the trade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *