The Power to Defer

This article describes a personal case study on how my wife and I used a lean principle to avoid a decision with somehow dramatic consequences.

In March of this year, Yves Hanoulle interviewed me for his Who is Agile video series. On my request, the video is not yet published. I first wanted to publish this article. It will come soon.

Yves has this favourite question he fancies asking.

Do you have a personal agility tip to share?

Without hesitation, I shared “Defer Decision to the Last Responsible Moment”. It is one of the seven lean principles.

Professionally, I live by this principle. I have repeatedly been battling with people:

Me: No, we are not going to implement this right now.

X: But, but … it is part of the requirements. We know we have to provide this flexibility.

Me: Yes, that can be, but we do not need it right now. We will do that when it is actually needed. Right now, we are just going to implement the simplest thing that works.

X: But, then we will have to rewrite this later.

Me: Sure, but then we will have enough knowledge to do the right thing. That will be far less expensive instead of trying to assume things now, probably being wrong and having to redo it anyway.

Far too often I have implemented flexibility at a too early stage to know now it is a pure waste of time, energy and a money drainer.

But not only professionally, also in my personal life it is fairly present. Even so that my wife follows the same principle. She actively searches together with me for ways to defer decisions in our private life. “We do not have enough information. Can we not take this decision right now? How can we gain time? How can we postpone that decision?

We also try to pass this on to our children. It is quite a game changer for life. I have not learned this as a kid or young adult. Schools do not teach this. On the contrary. Only when reading the books from Mary and Tom Poppendieck, Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit, that I discovered this. I loved it. It is unimaginable how it simplifies life. But few people follow me in this.

Naturally, Yves asked for an example from my personal life. I have a massive one. It is happening right here, right now. But the question took me by surprise. I was not prepared to share this because it is rather personal. Few people know this. More importantly, I had not talked this through with my wife. Is it ok to share this? It is our life. So, I kindly declined the question. But it kept nagging. I felt I missed an occasion to show the world a different way of thinking. After much thought, I thought the time was come to share this. I wrote this article down in one stroke while waiting for a late Eurostar. I showed it to my wife. She was moved and agreed to publish this.

Because of personal battles, my wife and I are somewhat isolated. We do not have friends nearby upon which we can rely on. It brought us to do everything on our own. We could only rely on ourselves. That worked, if you can say this, not too bad until having children. But well … not something we would say that gives a lot of joy. On the contrary, a lot of sadness and loneliness draw our lives.

Raising two children, all by ourselves, just the two of us, is quite demanding. The pandemic drove everything to extremes. Now we were even more lonely, with barely any people to rely on. To tell the truth, nobody. It has been the one thing too much. It left deep scars on our couple.

Eventually, last November, we decided to separate to give each other space. We sincerely did not know what to do, what the future would bring, or what this experience would bring, … We had not seen this coming. Though we each knew for two years something was wrong and that something had to happen. Truthfully, some of my best friends knew better than me that something was wrong. I guess I did not want to see this.

Now you are asking, what has all this to do with this agility tip? Well, everything.

Naturally, people would think we would divorce. However, we did not want to take irreversible decisions. Divorcing has a considerable impact on the whole family, certainly emotionally but financially too and not a bit. We did not desire that. So, how could we defer that decision?

We decided I would leave the house. I would look for a temporary living for two months. That would allow both of us to find the dearly needed space. Space we each craved for.

Finding a temporary living solution to rent by the month is a reasonable endeavour. Though people regard Ghent as the most progressive city in Belgium, it is not the capital. There are not many businesses and ex-pats in Ghent requiring a temporary living.

I managed to find a business flat, a furnished apartment, that we could rent by the month. We started renting for two months. It was a loft in the attic of an old mansion. The owners lived on the ground and first floors. They are these charming, considerate people. I truly felt at home.

A business flat is a damned expensive thing. How is that a good thing? We did not have to invest in furniture that maybe we later did not need any more. We did not have to take a gas, electricity, water and Internet subscription. That is all included in the business flat. But more importantly, we did not have to commit to a yearly rent. We could rent as we went. Also, I did not have to endure the usual patronising experience that usually goes with renting an apartment: proving antecedents, earnings and all those sorts of power dynamics. It would certainly not have helped in the mental situation I was in. Access to those kinds of apartments is far less complicated. It is merely a business transaction. No power-constructs bullshit.

We soon realised that two months was too short. Especially, as this was all happening around the holiday season. We shortly extended the rent to three months.

Meanwhile, a dear friend of both of us, an amazing one we met at Codefreeze, offered to mediate between us. It allowed us to see our needs clearly and feel heard. We started to date again. Something we have, as a matter of fact, never been able to do when we were young because we had to fight for basic needs. It helped us getting again closer to each other and having fun again.

Eventually, we extended the rent for another three months bringing it to six months in total. Shortly after prolonging, we saw clear. We decided to stay a couple because we still have a lot of love and care for each other. But we each need our space. Thus, we decided we would keep living apart. However, we would still be having activities together as a family and going on holidays together.

Now we could look for a more definitive living solution for me as we knew now what was needed. Meanwhile, we found a lovely apartment.

Deferring the decision allowed us to gain time to see clearer. It avoided having to take the expensive, irreversible decision of divorcing. Eventually, it even helped us to cancel the apparent decision to divorce.


Published with consent from my wife, the one I love and still the most important person in my life.

My wife running a session at an open space