Stop Energy

A friend just used the phrase Stop Energy to describe part of the open software development process. I hadn’t heard the term before, and so I had to look it up. Stop Energy is the ambient energy in an open development process available to stop any forward motion. Stop Energy manifests as technical (and sometimes non-technical) stone throwing directed at anyone proposing any change. An excess of stop energy in a process is crippling. Unfortunately, stop energy seems to increase with the number of participants.

Stop energy isn’t uniformly bad, in my opinion. Sometimes it is necessary to prevent bad changes from happening. But far more often is a free software project (or any other open process) killed by stagnation and a loss of volunteers than by an excess of development and participation.

I’ve personally witness stop energy in several groups. Sometimes stop energy is the result of curmudgeons who don’t want anything to change, or of people who want to retain control of previous design decisions. But quite often Stop Energy and Yak Shaving go together. Yak shaving is a catch-all term for the work you need to do before you can do the work you should do. Often stop energy manifests itself as requirement creep. “You can’t add a new method to the dispatcher until we totally redesign the dispatcher like I’ve been meaning to do for 2 years.” This kind of stop energy can be particularly difficult for new participants in the process to overcome.

Having a term like Stop Energy I hope will help me to identify it in myself and others, and try to overcome it. It is potentially a very destructive force.

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