Scott Hanselman

Yak Shaving Defined - I'll get that done, as soon as I shave this yak.

January 23, '14 Comments [23] Posted in Musings
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Un Yak - by Ludovic Hirlimann, used under Creative Commons http://flic.kr/p/ab5d1NI've used the term Yak Shaving for years. You're probably shaving yaks at work all the time and don't realize it.

The term was coined by Carlin J. Vieri, a Ph.D. at MIT back in the 90s.

Yak shaving is what you are doing when you're doing some stupid, fiddly little task that bears no obvious relationship to what you're supposed to be working on, but yet a chain of twelve causal relations links what you're doing to the original meta-task.

Phrased differently, yak shaving is all that stuff that you need to do to solve some problem.

Here's a task. "Hey, Scott, can you deploy that web site?

Ok, do I have access? No, gotta get it. Passwords? Deployment technique? Web Farm? Scaling how? Web framework not configured? Oh, what about the connection string?

"Hey, Scott, is that site deployed yet?"

"No, I'm still shaving this yak."

Yak photo by Ludovic Hirlimann used under Creative Commons

* Ren and Stimpy of course, were first, but it was used at MIT in the context of irritating technology ceremony.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014 12:50:00 AM UTC
Then Continuous Integration is just Automatic Yak Shaving . I'm going to use that instead from now on.
Thursday, January 23, 2014 1:01:04 AM UTC
That GIF explain everything you said! Well done.
Thursday, January 23, 2014 1:10:13 AM UTC
I prefer "Still Shakin' It Boss" -- reference to Blazing Saddles
Paul Ballard
Thursday, January 23, 2014 1:16:46 AM UTC
Check that, Cool Hand Luke reference... I must be getting old
Paul Ballard
Thursday, January 23, 2014 2:53:33 AM UTC
I gotta say, that gif image is great! I had to watch it like 5 times and each time I laughed at something different. Only devs would get it!
Ivan Perez
Thursday, January 23, 2014 3:15:01 AM UTC
Goodness, I thought I was the only one! Thank you for helping me understand that I'm not alone!
Thursday, January 23, 2014 3:38:32 AM UTC
I used to do that until i read a book called "Getting things done" by Davtid Allen. One rule there in book is if there is a task in the middle of your job, just think about how long it takes. If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it, otherwise keep it in a list (there are many structured todo lists). Putting things in a list make you feel that all your issues are taken care of.

Arslis
Thursday, January 23, 2014 7:25:33 AM UTC
Finally, there's a term to describe my entire life. I'm going to put 'Yak Shaver' on my business cards.
Darren
Thursday, January 23, 2014 1:38:53 PM UTC
Extra points for calling out Ren & Stimpy.
Brian
Thursday, January 23, 2014 2:12:04 PM UTC
It's my whole life too. I was just taking a break from yak shaving to look at this...
J Blackmore
Thursday, January 23, 2014 2:58:18 PM UTC
I don't know how many times I've used that Malcolm in the Middle sketch to explain what shaving a yak is. Wonderful!
Thursday, January 23, 2014 3:09:44 PM UTC
"Irritating Technology Ceremony" is the definition of IT work in the FedGov. Now I have a phrase to describe it. Yak Shaving!! Also enjoy your tweets about 6 and 8.
Richard
Thursday, January 23, 2014 5:44:06 PM UTC
Funny - how like dog-fooding, the term yak shaving involves an animal.

For newbie web programmers, learning ASP.NET MVC will feel like yak shaving - they'll have to know a fair deal about C#, ORM, Visual Studio, jQuery before they can be productive.
Anil
Thursday, January 23, 2014 6:33:01 PM UTC
Yak, sounds waay cool, I'll definetly use the expression in my next work extimate, thanks Scott!! ;)
Thursday, January 23, 2014 7:50:25 PM UTC
I'm exhausted....that last yak was the death of me.
George
Thursday, January 23, 2014 8:47:49 PM UTC
Very entertaining post as always Scott
maurits
Thursday, January 23, 2014 8:49:36 PM UTC
Like it. Just installing some virtual yaks to repro an issue,,,
Friday, January 24, 2014 4:01:50 AM UTC
Dude, that's Brian Cranston from Breaking Bad in that gif! Never heard the expression but will def be adopting it. Know the situation all too well. Both professionally and personally.
Monday, January 27, 2014 7:51:37 AM UTC
hahaha...I have seen developers do this all the time. I often find myself 'shaving the yak' when I have to learn something new technology. I start from something and end up doing a host of other things before I get back to learning.
:)
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 9:54:41 AM UTC
I feel so disappointed when I try to explain this to my boss and he doesn't understand.
Wednesday, February 05, 2014 8:39:15 AM UTC
Yak shaving sounds very much like the song : There's a hole in my bucket

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There%27s_a_Hole_in_My_Bucket
John
Tuesday, February 18, 2014 2:16:07 AM UTC
Gif is awesome, but you forgot to actually explain WHY its called "Yak Shaving"! The original story, much like the Cranston gif, is that after attempting to take care of something, this long convoluted process ended up with the guy literally shaving a yak because he needed to replace a pillow stuffed with yak fur - or something like that. I cant find the original story anywhere, but I read it recently.
Saturday, March 29, 2014 3:20:40 PM UTC
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