Beware the Bike Shed

Engineers gather to discuss two designs: One for a nuclear reactor and one for a bike shed. The reactor discussion is smooth and short, as people nod in agreement. But the bike shed discussion lasts for hours as engineers sketch layouts, discuss paint colors, and think critically about building materials.

Bike-shedding (a.k.a. The Law of Triviality) is rampant in knowledge work because complex problems are difficult to criticize. Trivial problems are easy to grasp, so people are quick to share opinions.

Bike-shedding is a dangerous form of procrastination for teams and individuals. It’s easier to manage your inbox than write code, so you might waste time creating Outlook rules instead of designing an algorithm.

  • To avoid team bike-shedding: Keep meetings short (30-45 min) and focused on one topic. Nudge the group back if discussion trails off course.
  • To avoid personal bike-shedding: Block time for one, important task. Set a timer and do nothing but that task.