Bitten by an elephant

Hands up if you have ever been bitten by an elephant?
Now hands up if you have ever been bitten by a mosquito?
See, it’s the little things in life that will get you

Joel Weldon
paraphrased.”

Put another way, “the devil is in the details.”

This mindset has always perplexed me, particularly in the world of OSS. Attention to detail and being fastidious about the little things is paramount to delivering a reliable OSS, as evidenced in these posts within the last week alone “Failure analyses” and “What else is going missing?

In what appears to be a direct contradiction, I’m also a massive believer in the Pareto Principle being applied rigourously in OSS, where 20% of the effort delivers 80% of the outcome. Pareto gets quoted here on a regular basis too. There always seems to still be so much to do in OSS that you have to pick the activities that will have the biggest impact rather than getting bogged down in the 80% of effort that delivers 20% of the outcome.

These represent two completely different ends of a mindset continuum that ranges between two positives – from big picture to detail-oriented. There is each has the potential to stray to the negative flip-side shown in the diagram below.
Mindset continuum
We are all able to move along this continuum when we need to. However, in my experience it’s incredibly rare to find one individual to be adept at both ends of the scale – being able to tackle a situation from top down (ie big-picture first) or bottom up (ie gathering all the details to build up to the solution) as the need arises.

So, assuming you don’t have an organisation filled with these switch-hitters, there are two considerations:

  • Build a team that has a balanced blend of individuals with each mindset and/or
  • OSS is an elephant (I prefer “the giant OctopOSS“). Be very selective about the areas where attention to detail wins out. It must be in the areas where the extra effort still represents the 20% to deliver the 80% (eg performing impact analyses to identify lead indicators)
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