Five Minutes

I recently attended #CAST2011 out in Lynnwood, WA and on the last day attended James Bach’s Context Driven Leadership tutorial.  I was lucky enough to sit at a table with some very talented and smart individuals – Markus Gartner, Phil McNeely and Elena Houser. Coming back from one of the breaks, Markus asked James what he meant by 5 minutes and in what context (as was stated would start in 5 more minutes).   Given the theme of the tutorial and the fact I seem to find many examples when interacting with my son Jack, this sparked a blog idea that you may or may not find interesting and/or relevant.  

We can all agree that 1 minute = 60 seconds correct? and given that, 5 minutes is 300 seconds?  At face value yes, but using 5 minutes with a toddler is completely different. What 5 minutes means depends entirely on the situation and the context it is used. My son’s reaction to the 5 minutes also ranges depending on the situation – is it something he is eagerly waiting for or is it something he wishes to prolong?  This is getting harder as he continually asks questions and now understands that 1 minute = 60 seconds.

In our household, we use a 5 minute countdown for just about everything as this tends to make whatever transition we are about to make much easier for Jack to adapt and react to.  The first thing folks that watch this, will realize is that our “5 minutes” is rarely ever the same amount of time and generally goes well beyond the 300 second definition above.

Scenario #1: Bedtime

When preparing for bed, we do the 5 minute countdown and one of the biggest factors into what this 5 minutes means is “how late of a start did us (the parents) get in starting the countdown. 

  • If we see that Jack is tired or know has had a long day, we may start the countdown earlier and thus the intervals between the minutes is extended and the 5 minutes can take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes.
  • If we get off schedule, get home late, etc. and get a late start on countdown, the intervals between minutes reduce greatly and generally are through in a max 10-15 minutes (real time).
  • In each case, despite Jack now knowing 60 seconds is 1 minute, he does not keep us honest by counting to 60 for accuracy as he generally wants to prolong nighttime as much as possible so leaves it to us to call it.

Scenario #2: Travelling

It amazes me that kids somehow inherently know how to ask “Are we there yet?” “How much longer?”  When Jack was younger, could say 5-10 minutes or an even more generic answer “in a little while” and that would suffice.  As stated before, he now understands the concept of 1 minute = 60 seconds which has made it a more risky opposition to an accurate time.  the number of times he asks “Are we there yet?” increase/decrease by his level of excitement getting to the destination.

In one case, I stated 5 minutes and he then proceeded to count to 60  5 times. In this one case I happened to get home right as we he was getting to 60 the fifth time. Of course his 60 is debatable to as he counts in different speeds as well.  The only real consequence is when the trip takes longer than stated and then I have to hear about it the rest of the way until we get to where we are going.

But, this is a case where his response to the time is much different. If he is excited or interested in getting somewhere, he is more cognizant of when it will truly be and doing all he can to speed up the process.  So not only do my wife and I behave differently executing the 5 minute countdown, but Jack also responds differently and his level of awareness of the time changes based on the context of the situation.

In conclusion…

This sort of ties into the risk of gaining a shallow agreement with another. Shallow agreement (paraphrasing) as discussed in the tutorial is “the appearance of agreement when you don’t” and generally happens when we seek common ground too quickly. This can easily lead to misunderstanding each other. 

This is especially important when dealing with someone that is very literal (like a 5 year old) who doesn’t get a “figure of speech.” For example, I have a tendency to respond “In a couple of minutes…” and then he responds later “you said it would only be 2 minutes.” My first response is “No I didn’t” but then realized he was using his defnition of the word couple and that couple equals 2 where I am using it as a figure of speech.  It sets the wrong expectation and thus can lead to confusion and/or issue. How many issues are released to production due to individuals thinking they are on the same page, where they really weren’t and overlook a critical piece of the puzzle?

I appreciate and welcome and any and all feedback as I continue my journey and learning of the context driven school of software testing.

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About Alex Bantz

Director of Quality Engineering at Salesforce in Indianapolis, Indiana. The views expressed here are my own and not those of Salesforce. I am a proud father of 3 wonderful boys. I have been involved in the field of software testing 15 years as both an individual contributor and in managerial/leadership roles. I enjoy not only learning new techniques but also assisting others in their growth and development and am a vocal supporter of the importance of software testing. View all posts by Alex Bantz

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