The Law of Triviality

Image created with Midjourney. Image prompt:
Image created with Midjourney. Image prompt: 2d minimal style illustration a group of figures engrossed in debating the color and shape of a tiny bike shed, while in the backdrop, a sketch of a massive, yet unnoticed, nuclear power plant looms

At some point in our lives, we've all experienced a scenario where a group focuses more on trivial details rather than addressing the bigger, more substantial issues at hand. This is known as the Law of Triviality, a concept that suggests groups tend to give far more time and attention to trivial or cosmetic issues rather than serious and substantial ones1. This behavior is also commonly referred to as 'Bike Shedding', a term that originated from a fictional example where a committee spent more time discussing the structure of a bike shed rather than the design of a nuclear power plant they were tasked with approving1.

In the realm of digital software product development, the Law of Triviality comes into play more often than one might expect. Let's dive into three examples of how it manifests in this industry.

Examples

Design Discussions

One of the most common areas where 'Bike Shedding' occurs is during design discussions. Teams may spend hours debating the color of a button or the placement of an icon, while larger issues, like the overall user experience or the product's core functionality, get neglected. While attention to detail is important, it's essential to prioritize discussions and decisions that will have a greater impact on the end product.

Code Reviews

Code reviews are another area where the Law of Triviality can rear its head. Developers might spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing minor code style preferences, while overlooking significant architectural decisions or potential security vulnerabilities. This can lead to less efficient reviews and missed opportunities to improve the quality of the code.

Product Roadmap Planning

During product roadmap planning, teams might get sidetracked by small feature requests that seem easy to tackle but aren't aligned with the product's strategic goals. This can result in a roadmap filled with 'nice-to-have' features, while key functionalities that could drive user growth and engagement get pushed to the back burner.

So, how does understanding the Law of Triviality help us in creating digital software products? Recognizing and addressing this behavior can lead to more focused discussions, better prioritization, and ultimately, more effective product development. By concentrating our attention on what truly matters, we can ensure that we are making the most significant impact possible.

The Law of Triviality teaches us a valuable lesson: while it's easy to get lost in the details, it's the bigger picture that often demands our attention. By keeping this in mind, teams can focus on delivering a product that truly meets the needs of its users and succeeds in the market.

Sources