Chapter 80. Stop Your Team from Bikeshedding, and Saying “Bikeshedding”

Ian Nowland

The term “bikeshedding” has achieved wide usage as a way of calling out nonproductive feedback. The challenge is that the usual situations in which the term is used have ambiguity about which party is at fault. Thus, as a manager, when you hear members of your team dismiss feedback as bikeshedding, it is your responsibility to dig in and ensure that they have sought out the other parties’ perspectives and communicated their reasoning. On the flipside, when your team is being accused, take it as a guide that they need to try and raise the quality of their feedback.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the best description is the email that popularized it, from Poul-Henning Kamp to a FreeBSD email list, posted at http://bikeshed.com/. What he describes is this process around a decision being critiqued:

  1. Experts think deeply about all options and trade-offs and put forward a proposal.

  2. The proposal is reviewed by a committee of non-experts.

  3. Rather than focus on the deep trade-offs, the committee spends its time voicing objections and making counterproposals only on trivial details.

This is now called bikeshedding. Within companies, the “experts” are individuals or teams that have made a decision. The “committee” comprises stakeholders who don’t agree. Their bikeshedding generally takes two ...

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