Trim Tabs in Software Development

Trim Tabs In Software Development

I have always admired and been inspired by R. Buckminster Fuller, author of the ground-breaking book “Critical Path”. He was the person who created the term “Spaceship Earth” and invented the geodesic dome among many other things. I remember him reflecting once on trim tabs. Trim tabs are used in aviation and shipping. Literally, they are attached to a large control surface which would otherwise be difficult to move.

Bucky once said:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

So I said, call me Trim Tab.

Bucky points to trim tabs being more than just highly leverageable things. Part of how a trim tab works is that it changes the environment in which it is operating.  This change in the environment is what makes the trim tab produce such a leveraged effect. In the example above, the environment was the water surrounding the rudder.  In software the environment can be an extension of what is being considered and/or who is included in the conversations - as in test-first development.

BTW: here's a picture of his tombstone:

Bucky Fuller's Tombstone












We have found the following to be significant trim-tabs in software development:

Most of these don't take extra work to do - they just require different habits or ordering of the workflow.

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