“Can I have it in blue?” – Are you suffering from the Bike-Shed Effect?

Very recently I was introduced to the term “Bikeshedding”  and as a Software Developer it’s something I had encountered many times, but could never put a name to it.

The official name is Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, and it explains that organisations place too much importance on trivial things.  Which in Parkinson’s case was the design a nuclear power plant’s bike shed, over the actual nuclear power plant itself.

In my world this means asking for a button to be Blue, Green or any colour without actually discussing what the button should do.  Now I admit that in some cases colour is very important to the end user, especially those with visual impairments, but in the case of Bikeshedding these conversations waste time and often money, as too much effort is put in to areas that have little or no bearing on the functionality of the end product.

I’m guessing many people have been involved in project meetings, where you often leave wondering what you actually achieved, or that you never actually made a decision about the topic you were there to discuss in the first place?

There are many reason why this might occur.  For instance, the people making decisions have little or no understanding of the more complex issues of a project, and therefore wish to delay discussing it.  Perhaps they have too much knowledge, so think it is something that can be left until the end, or in some cases they just feel they have to make a decision about something, no matter what it is, in order for them to feel like they are contributing.  Point to note, the latter of these can sometime have detrimental effect on a product.

Regardless of the reason, Bikeshedding is rather frustrating for those of use actually creating, building or designing.


After some further reading and discussion around the effect I did find some potential solutions to this problem.

  1. Put everything through change-control and a thorough test process, even a change in colour.  This way whoever has asked for it may soon change there mind if they know it has to be thoroughly tested, and it may take up to 3 weeks to change a colour.  They could soon change their mind about it.
  2. Use the Duck Effect – This is a counter measure where at every meeting you add one element you expect the decision makers to change or even remove.  This way they have contributed to the project, without effecting the end product.  (This one seems a little sly and underhand, but if it works…)

All in all the bikeshedding is a waste of time, and the less time you spend discussing small trivial things that faster you will see progress in an organisation.

Is bikeshedding something you suffer from?  Do you have any ways you over come it?

Original Post:  January 14, 2016 on Linkedin
mage Credit:  Phillip Collier

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