Moments, a.k.a. Jewish wisdom, Greek Mythology, and LRM
What do Greek mythology and Jewish wisdom have to do with Product Management; and what does all of that have to do with your life?
Bear with me, I promise everything will make sense in the end.
Photo: Sailko, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Concept of the LRM (Last Responsible Moment)
The last responsible moment (LRM) comes from Lean and Agile, and all in all, we can say that it is the point in time where the cost of delay outweighs the benefits of waiting.
To put it in less business-y / project management-ish words: it’s a point in time when you lose by continuing to wait (e.g. alternative(s), resources, etc.).
Let me illustrate with 2 examples:
There’s a conference to attend and tickets to purchase:
You’re waiting to see if colleagues or friends would join you, so you all get a discount; or waiting to see if your org would cover (part of) the costs, etc. The early bird price expires in 4 days. Your LRM to make the decision is likely the moment the early bird offer ends.
You’re waiting on a bus which is delayed:
You have to be somewhere at 5:30 PM, and you cannot be late. You could take a cab, both the cab and the bus take the same time to your destination (e.g. 10 minutes). Your LRM for the decision is likely around 5:20. If there is no bus, you can’t afford to wait any longer, and have to take the cab (and pay more).
It is important to understand that we lose with both premature and overdue decisions.
Think conference: If you purchased the tickets 7 days before the end of early bird, you missed an opportunity to have a few people buy it together and get a discount; or for your org to cover the cost or a part.
Think cab vs. bus: If you took the cab too early, you’d pay three times more than the bus fare; and maybe the bus would have arrived and taken you there in time. But if you don’t get a cab by 5:20, you’ll end up being late.
This same principle goes for anything in life (and work), and by acting too early (or too late), we miss out on opportunities:
Too early: a chance to learn and adjust to the changing context, make better decision
Too late: missed opportunities or making wrong decisions. That train has left the station…
Due to the term LRM (Last Responsible Moment), a ‘moment’ is used in this text. But that’s not really what that is. One of the authors of Manifesto for Agile Software Development and creator of Heart of Agile, Dr. Alistair Cockburn has ‘a problem’ with calling this ‘moment’, as it is unrealistic that we have a single, short point of time written in the stone, and this ‘moment’ sometimes spans for days.
But, no need to get into the weeds here, the main takeaway is: take time to make decisions, learn, adjust, and do not rush… But when the right time comes, make the decision. That’s what LRM is about.
Greek Mythology and Two Times
This is Kairos, the son of Zeus and the grandson of Kronos. He is a god of time, pictured at the top of this newsletter and on the marble piece above. Kairos’ grandfather, Kronos, was also a god of time, but it turns out ancient Greeks had two ways of looking at the time.
Kronos (or Chronos) is in charge of maintaining the course and cycles of seasons and periods of time. Think chronological time.
Kairos refers to an opportune time, to a (right, critical, or favorable) moment. That’s why he’s depicted with locks of hair in front, and bald head on the back, suggesting that the right opportunity can be caught only for a brief moment, as it’s approaching. And once Kairos is gone, not even Zeus himself could catch him.
I think it’s a nice metaphor, and a reminder to us all: wait patiently until the moment (Kairos) has arrived, and then react swiftly – grab him before he goes away running.
Where (and Why) We Fail With LRM
I have no research on this, only anecdotal experiences, which may still be valuable nonetheless.
In terms of professional life, from working with(in) different teams, in small startups and large corporations; and in terms of personal life, from discussions with friends, my own experiences, reading, and therapy.
For organizations, it seems the factors are their culture, intertwined with the personal characteristics of the people making it and their interactions. In a more old-fashioned large corporation, goals are planned for the year(s) ahead (which is in itself a premature decision, as our world changes at a much faster pace for yearly plans to follow. There are also individual characteristics of team members as well, and Conway’s law: people in the system, shape the system and are at the same time influenced by the system.
For individuals, factors are our personality and temperament, combined with the circumstances and environment, such as friends, family, work, and different events. And there are also two important biases in this sense.
How we miss Kairos: action bias and status quo bias
In terms of decision-making and LRM, there are 2 biases that are strongly in play: action bias and status quo bias (not to be mixed with omission bias).
Action bias is a phenomenon where we tend to favor action over inaction, even in cases when there is no proof or indication that by doing so, we will achieve a better result. In a (product) management context, we may feel pressure to ‘take action’, even when there is no proof this action will improve the situation. This is especially true in times of economic downturn, or a rough patch for the organization we serve. Additionally, after an action was taken, in case it didn’t help – other people might give us less hard time compared to an instance when we took no action.
Status quo bias is the rough opposite: here we tend to favor not undertaking any action to change the current situation, even when it could improve it.
Omission bias is confounded with a bias toward the status quo. While both involve a preference for the status quo and aversion to change, omission bias is focused on the harm caused by actions, while status-quo bias is focused on the perceived benefits of maintaining the current situation.
Personally, I have (a strong) action bias. This is emphasized by my history of working within high-paced, startup environments, but I try to fight it in two ways: a) being aware and mindful of it as the first step, and b) trying to withstand the urge to ‘do something’. I also have a personal hack against action bias: reminding myself that actively deciding to not take action, is also an action. When you put it like that, the pressure (usually) goes away.
Some Jewish wisdom for the end
During the early COVID-19 days in my search for some more meaning, I stumbled upon Mussar, a spiritual and ethical Jewish tradition dating back to the 12th century, focused on self-development and the cultivation of virtues through reflection on our actions and striving for improvement. Some of the Mussar practices include meditation, journaling, visualizations, and doing positive acts of service on behalf of and for others. Nowadays, it’s a very open practice, so you even don’t need to be religious, and I, as an atheist, ended up taking a Mussar introductory course.
At the core of Mussar is the practice of accounting of the soul which is a direct translation of the Hebrew phrase cheshbon ha’nefesh. We all have multiple traits in different amounts, so what you do in the accounting of the soul is to self-reflect and account for them. During the course I took, journaling was also involved: at the beginning of the week, you choose a trait you would like to work on, and reflect daily on it. Almost any trait is neutral in itself, and we should strive for balance - the problem is when there’s too much or too little. That’s why we do the ‘accounting of the soul’.
Take assertiveness: if you have too little, you won’t necessarily stand your ground and take action; if you have too much, you might cross the line and take someone else’s space and assert your opinions upon them (especially if you don’t allow them to voice their opinion or question yours).
A dose of humility is great, but an extreme in the opposite direction can lead to never taking your space and/or underselling yourself…
And so we come to the conclusion:
In terms of the LRM, our biases, and catching the fleeting Kairos: be aware of your bias (whether towards action or status quo), remember that balance is the key, and be aware that there’s a responsible time to act. Wait patiently, and when the time is right, take swift action.
Wish you a lot of fortunate moments that you act upon just in time,