Don't Cross the Streams
By user12601629 on May 30, 2007
I sometimes get accused of overusing a few strange expressions in my management style. One of my favorites is telling people not to cross the streams. Why don't you cross them? Because, it would be bad. Everyone knows the answer to that one, right? Of course, in thinking about it, there are around 200 people in my group, about half of whom work outside the US and may have no idea what I'm talking about, so I thought I'd lay it out.
The expression comes from the movie Ghostbusters. A comedy from the mid-80s -- and one of my favorite movies. Here's the bit. In the scene, our three heros are using their new Proton blasters to try and capture a ghost. As they get started, the nerdiest Ghostbuster stops the action and gives them a warning.
Dr. Peter Venkman: What?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Don't cross the streams.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Why?
Dr. Egon Spengler: It would be bad.
Dr. Peter Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Right. That's bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.
So, what does this have to do with managing software projects? The answer is that I've long seen a tenancy for well intended people to mix priorities or ideas from two projects and merge them together. If it works for this project, it should work for this other one too. Or, a piece of guidance given in one context gets used in a different context where it may not be appropriate.
So, if you hear me say something about crossing the streams, I'm probably implying that we may be merging two incompatible priority sets, and it could have unintended repercussions. Why don't we want to do this? Well, because, it would be bad.
In case you've never seen the movie. Here's a link over to the trailer over on YouTube.