Don't Cross the Streams

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. Egon Spengler: There's something very important I forgot to tell you.
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.
 

Comments:

Steve, are you an agilist? I came upon your blog while searching for the exact quote from Ghostbusters. Your recommendation to avoid crossing the streams is a great example of "Lean thinking". People will pull from a work-queue when they know which queue to pull from, which means having one single, prioritized queue. Of course, that may not be exactly what you are referring to, but it's one of the notions that popped into my head. The other Lean or Agile idea inherent in your comment is that unique products require unique processes, and that tool-or-technique-X may have worked well on product A, but that doesn't imply that X will work for B. I find it amazing how much time we waste thinking about ways to avoid wasting time. It's as though we as developers don't trust our own knowledge. If something is truly reusable, it will be obviously reusable. A tool is a "tool" only if it makes the job easier. (Easier on the developer, not on the computer.) Anyway, thanks for the quote! I have a place to direct people when they give me that look after I say "Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon!" And they're learn a little Lean, too. :)

Posted by Rob Myers on June 05, 2007 at 08:20 AM PDT #

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Thoughts on cloud computing, virtualization and data center management from Steve Wilson, Oracle engineering VP.

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