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Posted on: Friday, 09 April 2010 by Rajiv Popat

If you build software, you work in a business which is controlled by simple concrete fundamental rules which are just as real and just as invisible as gravity. That is not to say that these rules cannot be bent, bypassed or broken, but then when we are talking about breaking these rules we are either talking sweat, blood and time or we are talking simple magic. Put simply, we are either talking about taking the Wright brothers way or taking the Harry Potter way.

The Wright Brother way involves having a culture where people understand the existence of these simple fundamental rules. Then they work on a slow, steady, scientific approach to taking small steps towards twisting and bending these rules.

The 10x productivity rule for example offsets the iron triangle rule but then it takes about ten thousand hours for a developer to be able to bend the rule. No different that building a airplane step-by-step.

A good ten years of committed focus and hard work goes in. Expertise is developed, you slowly move away from typical CRUD applications and build something that is genuinely innovative.

That is when an overnight success that takes years is born.

The Harry Potter Approach on the other hand involves no respect for the fundamental rules. It typically involves a bunch of clients or managers using all their management arrows to hunt out a few Harry Potters within the organization and then hoping that these Harry Potters pull a magic trick and just get things done consistently without failing.

You know that your manager is expecting a Harry Potter when he is not 'listening' to what you are saying. Instead of realizing the practical problems and the productive constraints which force you to remove excess fluff and focus on what is important, he is busy reminding you how important it is for you to do what he is telling you to do, within the timelines in which he is telling you to do it.

What he is doing is that he is genuinely hoping you are his Harry Potter and that you can pull a rabbit out of your hat for him.

As someone who was once a Harry Potter early on in his career I have witnessed how bad pulling magic tricks in projects can hurt.

After my first successful failure where I pulled a few magic tricks, I recovered, healed rather quickly and resolved that I was not going to repeat my failure. I also learnt the finite rules that exist in the world of software development and then I set on a path to break these rules with consistent and focused commitment to at-least try to get better each day.

Personally, I do not know if I have been successful at my self-commitment but I am definitely trying to take continuous steps on the path of self development.

So as a young and budding manager, or as a regular ass-hole, as much as you hate that guy who tells you the practical realities of your business, your team's limitation or brings you face to face with realities you did not want to encounter, remember, that this is not the guy who will get your project to fail or your career to take a steep nose-dive. In fact, if you can give this guy a serious pat on his back and make him your friend, that is what you should do.

Then there is the Harry Potter who never says no, pushes 'harder' to get things done and pulls out magic tricks without any respect for real constraints that exist all around him and his team. This is the guy you need to be seriously careful of.

This is the guy who will take both you and your project down if you keep trusting him to pull his magic tricks for you.

Why Pops, you ask. What is so wrong with a little bit of magic?

Remember that magician who used to make your coin disappear into thin air when you were young? The coin wasn't really gone. It was sitting somewhere under his sleeve and the art of shitting canning things under your sleeve is exactly the kind of art and talent that you need to get your next project to fail in the long term.

So if you are a young and budding entrepreneur, vice-president or a manager, stop looking for Harry Potters within your organization and start looking for people who remind you the practical realities or rules of life and then show you how to overcome, bend or break these rules with step by step hard work, one track focus and relentless commitment.

I wish you good luck.