Two Sets of Books – Wrong Metaphor

You may have heard folks talk about having two sets of books; usually they say that conspiratorially and with a wink.

Why? Because when you have two sets of books, that means you are deceiving someone. You are literally telling one story to the authority (a false story) and another to yourself, or whomever you want to tell the truth to.

Gangsters have two sets of books. Long haul truckers who don’t like maximum drive hour restrictions (and violate them) have two sets of books.

You get my point. “Two sets of books” is synonymous with deception.

Why am I going on about this? I’ve heard several Agile advocates talk about this idea over the years. Early on, the idea was that management would be hostile to Agile and therefore, for the good of the company (and the team), we should go ahead and keep our Agile information to ourselves and tell management we’re doing something different.

I’ve never been comfortable with that approach.

One aspect of becoming Agile is being transparent, and two sets of books isn’t being transparent. I feel a lot better about telling it like it is, and educating folks about the data we have about progress that they never had before.

There’s a difference, though if one is talking about having a translation available to help guide folks to a new understanding, but that’s not having two sets of books. That’s having one book, with a translation.

So, for me at least, ‘two sets of books’ is a bad metaphor. Be transparent and say what you mean.


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