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Product development

Random Walks

How well does the almost universal Agile practice of “built and see if they come” serve us (as developers, as customers)?

I suggest it’s time to rethink our belief that customers (and developers, for the most part) “don’t know what they want until they see it”.

My late, great colleague and friend Grant Rule used to refer to the practice, common in the Agile domain, of building something to see if the customer likes it as “random walks through the problems-solution space”.

Quality Demands Requirements

Philip Crosby, a widely acclaimed “guru” of Quality Management, defined quality as “conformance to requirements”. As simple and blunt as that.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences with software product development, especially the development of “quality” products that customers love. In Javelin, we place special emphasis on de-risking delivery through explicitly defining the customers and their respective requirements. Not big-bang, up-front stylee, but incrementally, just enough each couple of days to build a little more of the product and deliver it to the customer(s) for their delight, confidence, and feedback.

But in our approach, requirements (in the frame of the Antimatter Principle we call these needs) precedes building anything. Agile shops these days seems to major in building something before discussing requirements (if they ever get discussed at all). BDD offers an exception, but how many shops do BDD?

Aside: In Javelin, we identify all stakeholders (all the Folks That Matter), discuss their needs (“Stakeholders’ Needs”) and quantify them (a la Gilb – see: Competitive Engineering) in the form of Quantified Quality Objectives. Although this all generally proceeds incrementally, rather than in a big batch up front, the information is always to hand by the time someone gets around to building the relevant part of the thing in question. People work from the requirements. Always.

Random Walks are not Our Bag

Random walks are not our bag.

By cleaving to the belief that customers “don’t know what they want until they see it”, and structuring the whole approach to development around this belief, Agile shops have no incentive to improve the way they work with customers to understand their needs. No incentive to improve requirements elicitation and capture. No incentive – or means – to prevent defects and deliver zero-defects quality. Indeed, this belief and its associated practices blocks us from working to continually find better ways to create useful requirements (formal statements of folks’ needs) from which to drive quality (cf Crosby) and the improving of relationships with each other (developers, ops) and with customers.

Is this emphasis on working-from-clearly-stated-and-agreed-requirements better? Well, in my experience it makes for happier customers, happier developers, and more successful products. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether and how that’s “better”.

– Bob

Digital Transformation

It seems like “Digital Transformation” of organisations is all the rage – or is it fear? – in C-suites around the world. The term implies the pursuit of new business models and, by extension, new revenue streams. I’ve been speaking recently with folks in a number of organisations attempting “Digital Transformation”, some for the fourth or fifth time. I get the impression that things are not going well, on a broad front.

What is Digital Transformation?

Even though the term is ubiquitous nowadays, what any one organisation means by the term seems to vary widely. I’ll attempt my own definition, for the sake of argument, whilst recognising that any given organisation may have in mind something rather different, or sometimes no clear idea at all. Ask ten different organisations what Digital Transformation means to them, and you’re likely to get at least ten different answers.

Digital Transformation is the creation and implementation of new business models, new organisational models and new revenue streams made possible by the use of new digital technologies and channels.

Ironically it’s proving to NOT be about technology, but rather about company culture (this, in itself, being a product of the collective assumptions and beliefs of the organisation).

“A significant number of organisations are not getting [digital] transformation right because of a fundamental quandary over what digital transformation really is.”

~ Brian Solis, principal analyst and futurist at Altimeter

My Interest

So, why am I bothering to write this post? Aren’t there already reams of articles about every conceivable aspect of Digital Transformation?

Well, one aspect of Digital Transformation I see little covered is that relating to the development of “digital” products for the digitally-transformed company. And the implications this brings to the party.

Digital Transformation requires the development of new products and services to serve the new business models, new organisational models and new revenue streams. Digital products and digital services. In most cases, this means software development. And organisations, particularly untransformed organisations – which even now means most of them – are spectacularly inept at both software development and product development. Some refer to this as “a lack of digital literacy”.

Things have not changes much in this arena for the past fifty years and more. Failure rates resolutely hover around the 40% mark (and even higher for larger projects). And the much-vaunted (or is it much cargo-cullted?) Agile approach to development has hardly moved the needle at all.

For the past two decades I have been writing about the role of the collective psyche – and the impact on organisational effectiveness of the collectively-held assumptions and beliefs about how work should work. And make no mistake, effectiveness is a key issue in digital product development. Relatively ineffective organisations will fail to deliver new digital products and services at least as often as 40% of the time. Relatively effective organisations can achieve results at least an order of magnitude better than this.

The Marshall Model provides an answer to the question: what do we have to do to become more effective as an organisation? And it’s not a popular answer. By analogy, people looking to lose weight rarely like to hear they will have to eat less and exercise more. Organisations looking to become more effective rarely like to face up to the fact that they will have to completely rethink long-held and deeply-cherished beliefs about the way work should be organised, managed, directed and controlled. And remodel their organisations along entirely alien lines in order to see a successful Digital Transformation and compete effectively in the digital domain.

Successful Digital Transformations demand organisations not only come up with new business strategies, organisational models, revenue streams and digital products and services, but also that they shift their collective mindset to one which aligns with their ambitions. Personally, I see shifting the collective mindset as an essential precursor to the former. Most organisations approaching Digital Transformation fail to recognise this inevitability, this imperative. And so, most Digital Transformations are doomed to underachieve, or fail entirely.

“Ask yourself whether what you’re doing is disruptive to your business and to your industry. If you can say yes with a straight face, you may well be conducting a legitimate digital transformation.” And if you’re unable to say yes, then whatever you’re doing, it’s likely not a Digital Transformation.

If you’d like to explore this topic, understand more about the Marshall Model, its relevance and its predictive power, and save your organisation millions of Dollar/Pounds/Euros – not to mention much embarrassment and angst – I’d be delighted to chat things over with you and your executive team.

– Bob

Further Reading

Reinventing Organizations ~ Frederic Laloux

Cost of Focus

Or, more specifically, the cost of suboptimal focus – the cost of focusing on some (less relevant) needs of some Folks That Matter to the detriment or neglect of other (more relevant, valuable) needs of other Folks That Matter.

If we commit our (always limited) resources ineffectively, our returns (we might call this ROI) will likewise fall short of what would be possible if we committed our resources effectively, or optimally.

How Do We Decide?

How we as a individual, team, group or organisation decide who we’re trying to please, delight, satisfy, or otherwise engage with and deliver to?  How do we get to know what folks need, and who to ask about the details of those need? How do we choose whose needs we can successfully discount or defer when the inevitable resource (time, money, effort) crunches come? Who matters and who does not? Which needs are more relevant, valuable (with respect our chosen Goal) and which, less?

It might be useful to have some heuristics, or policy, or other forms of guidance, to guide us in decisions on including, excluding and prioritising folks and their needs? Personally, if it were entirely up to me, I’d go with the general principle describe by Goldratt and summarised in my post “What is Value?“.

By way of a quick summary of that post:

Focus on those things that relax the customers’ constraint, so as to increase the overall throughput of their business (a.k.a. “Mafia Offers”). And focus on the customers, or market segments, that you understand best – or at least can work with to find such understanding.

Our aim: to optimise the Needsscape a.k.a. the needs we meet (for example, need for revenue, profit, cost reduction, etc. often sits at top of mind).

Relevance For Workers

This post is not just about decisions made by executives and managers. Everybody has the same dilemma: how do I/we decide where to focus? Which code module would it be better to deliver first? Which tests are more valuable that others? Who would it be better to work with first, to understand their needs (a.k.a. constraints, requirements, or whatever)? Where we choose to focus absolutely determines how others see us and our efforts.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is: the more effective we are at focussing on things that contribute to our personal or business goal (Cf. Goldratt), the more of our goal we’re likely to get. (Is that self-serving? Only if our goal is self-serving. Choose wisely).

– Bob

Further Reading

The Goal ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
It’s Not Luck ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
Focus ~ Think Different blog post
What is Value? ~ Think Different blog post

Solutions Demand Problems

I’m obliged to Ben Simo (@QualityFrog) for a couple of recent tweets that prompted me to write this post:

BenSImoTweets

I very much concur that solutions disconnected from problems have little value or utility. It’s probably overdue to remind myself of the business problems which spurred me to create the various solutions I regularly blog about.

FlowChain

Problem

Continually managing projects (portfolios of projects, really) is a pain in the ass and a costly overhead (it doesn’t contribute to the work getting done, it causes continual scheduling and bottlenecking issues around key specialists, detracts from autonomy and shared purpose, and – from a flow-of-value-to-the-customer perspective – chops up the flow into mini-silos (not good for smooth flow). Typically, projects also leave little or no time, or infrastructure, for continually improving the way the work works. And the project approach is a bit like a lead overcoat, constraining management’s options, and making it difficult to make nimble re-adjustments to priorities on-the-fly.

Solution (in a Nutshell)

FlowChain proposes a single organisational backlog, to order all proposed new features and products, along with all proposed improvement actions (improvement to the way the work works). Guided by policies set by e.g. management, people in the pool of development specialists coalesce – in small groups, and in chunks of time of just a few days – around each suitable highest-priority work item to see it through to “done”.

Prod•gnosis

Problem

Speed to market for new products is held back and undermined by the conventional piecemeal, cross-silo approach to new product development. With multiple hands-offs, inter-silo queues, rework loops, and resource contentions, the conventional approach creates excessive delays (cf cost of delay), drives up the cost-of-quality (due to the propensity for errors), and the need for continual management  interventions (constant firefighting).

Solution (in a Nutshell)

Prod•gnosisproposes a holistic approach to New Product Development, seeing each product line or product family as an operational value stream (OVS), and the ongoing challenge as being the bringing of new operational value streams into existence. The Prod•gnosis approach stipulates an OVS-creating centre of excellence: a group of people with all the skills necessary to quickly and reliably creating new OVSs. Each new OVS, once created, is handed over to a dedicated OVS manager and team to run it under day-to-day BAU (Business as Usual).

Flow•gnosis

Problem

FlowChain was originally conceived as a solution for Analytic-minded organisations. In other words, an organisation with conventional functional silos, management, hierarchy, etc. In Synergistic-minded organisations, some adjustments can make FlowChain much more effective and better suited to that different kind of organisation.

Solution (in a Nutshell)

Flow•gnosis merges Prod•gnosis and FlowChain together, giving an organisation-wide, holistic solution which improves organisational effectiveness, reifies Continuous Improvement, speeds flowof new products into the market, provides an operational (value stream based) model for the whole business, and allows specialists from many functions to work together with a minimum of hand-offs, delays, mistakes and other wastes.

Rightshifting

Problem

Few organisations have a conscious idea of how relatively effective they are, and of the scope for them to become much more effective (and thus profitable, successful, etc.). Absent this awareness, there’s precious little incentive to lift one’s head up from the daily grind to imagine what could be.

Solution (in a Nutshell)

Rightshifting provides organisations with a context within which to consider their relative effectiveness, both with respect to other similar organisations, and more significantly, with respect to the organisation’s potential future self.

The Marshall Model

Problem

Few organisations have an explicit model for organisational effectiveness. Absence of such a model makes it difficult to have conversations around what actions the organisation needs to take to become more effective. And for change agents such as Consultants and Enterprise Coaches attempting to assist an organisation towards increased effectiveness, it can be difficult to choose the most effective kinds of interventions (these being contingent upon where the organisation is “at”, with regard to its set of collective assumptions and beliefs a.k.a. mindset).

Solution (in a Nutshell)

The Marshall Model provides an explanation of organisational effectiveness. The model provides a starting point for folks inside an organisation to begin discussing their own perspectives on what effectiveness means, what makes their own particular organisation effective, and what actions might be necessary to make the organisation more effective. Simultaneously, the Marshall Model (a.k.a. Dreyfus for Organisations) provides a framework for change agents to help select the kinds of interventions most likely to be successful.

Organisational Psychotherapy

Problem

Some organisations embrace the idea that the collective organisational mindset – what people, collectively believe about how organisations should work – is the prime determinant of organisational effectiveness, productivity, quality of life at work, profitability, and success. If so, how to “shift” the organisation’s mindset, its collective beliefs, assumptions and tropes, to a more healthy and effective place? Most organisations do not naturally have this skill set or capability. And it can take much time, and many costly missteps along the way, to acquire such a capability.

Solution (in a Nutshell)

Organisational Psychotherapy provides a means to accelerate the acquisition of the necessary skills and capabilities for an organisation to become competent in continually revising its collective set of assumptions and beliefs. Organisational Psychotherapy provides guidance and support to organisations in all stages of this journey.

Emotioneering

Problem

Research has shown conclusively that people buy things not on rational lines, but on emotional lines. Rationality, if it has a look-in at all, is reserved for post-hoc justification of buying decisions. Most product development today is driven by rationality. What are the customers’ pain points? What are the user stories or customer journeys we need to address? What features should we provide to ameliorate those pain points and meet those user needs? Upshot: mediocre products which fail to appeal to the buyers emotions, excepting by accident. And thus less customer appeal, and so lower margins, lower demand and slower growth.

Solution (in a Nutshell)

Emotioneering proposes replacing the conventional requirements engineering process (whether that be big-design-up-front or incremental/iterative design) focusing as it does on product features, with an *engineering* process focusing on ensuring our products creaate the emotional responses we wish to evoke in our customers and markets.

The Antimatter Principle

Problem

How to create an environment where the relationships between people can thrive and flourish? An environment where engagement and morale is consistent through the roof? Where joy, passion and discretionary effort are palpable, ever-present and to-the-max?

Solution (in a Nutshell)

The Antimatter Principleproposes that putting the principle of “attending to folks’ needs” at front and centre of allof the organisations policies is by far the best way to create an environment where the relationships between people can thrive and flourish. Note: this includes policies governing the engineeringdisciplines of the organisation, i.e. attending to customers’ needs at least as much as to the needs of all the other Folks That Matter.

– Bob

What is “Working Software”?

We have for decades now been informed by the Agile Manifesto, and its four guidelines. Guideline number two is “working software over comprehensive documentation”. I’m sure many folks skip over this with no more than a quick nod of agreement (and a implicit interpreting of “comprehensive documentation” as “reams of useless documentation”).

But what exactly do we mean by “working software”? A quick trawl through the Internet finds little in the way of a definition of this term, nor any explicit explanations of the why – the value – of “working software”.

For me, working software is simply any software that is actively being used by customers (a.k.a. users) in their real jobs. Until and unless it’s actually being used for the core purpose for which it was built, no one will be any the wiser as to its fitness for purpose.

Who Benefits from “Working Software”?

Developers

Developers get to understand how close they came to understanding the customers’ needs. Assuming, of course, that the feedback loop from customs to developers is a closed loop, rather than having no feedback from customers, or any feedback that is provided falling into a hole or getting hopeless garbled somewhere along the line from customers to developers. In the latter case working software is a pretty useless and ultimately frustrating concept.

Customers

Customers get to apply the software in the context it was intended. By which I mean their using it to help them be more successful (whatever that might mean in any individual case). They’re reassured that the developers are attending to their needs (although not necessarily fully meeting them). By applying the software in their work context, they get to see its true nature and fit. And they get to tell their story, or at least a part of it. Folks find telling their stories cathartic (assuming they’re being listened-to).

The Producers

The producers (the company supplying/building the software) get to exercise their channels to and from the market, and to and from active users. Shortfalls in the clear communication of needs (customers -> developers), smooth deployments (company -> customers) and clear communication of feedback (customers -> developers) can be identified and addressed. In principle, anyways.

Other Benefits

“Working software” as defined above, promises other benefits, above and beyond those already mentioned.These additional benefits  include:

  • Provides a definitive and unambiguous definition of what has been shipped/deployed, in a way that written requirements or documentation (one of the forms of documentation mentioned in the aforementioned Agile Manifesto guideline) simply cannot.
  • Promotes interaction and collaboration. Not just via feedback on the final version, but all the way through the evolution of the product or service under development. (Assuming the product or service deployed is capable of supporting real users in real work).
  • Early & regular delivery of value:
    Value to the customer / user (the growing utility of the product or service, as it evolves through numerous deployments and instances of real use).
    Value to the producers (assuming the producers get paid for each deployment + live use).
    Value to the developers (kudos and the joy inherent in materially attending to folks’ needs).
  • Flow (assuming iterative deployments + live use).
  • The Check phase of PDCA (hypothesise -> experiment -> compare proposed results with actual results -> draw conclusions )
  • A valuable measure of progress (“how well are we contributing to the success of our customers?”)

What “Working Software” is Not

It’s not:

  • “works on my machine”
  • “passes the test suite”
  • “runs in the test environment”
  • “runs in production”

None of these provide the acid test of real users doing real work with the thing.

Proviso

As with most things Agile, the label “working software” misleads as much as it helps. I’d propose renaming it to e.g. “deployed product or service” but that horse is already out of the stables and far over the hills. “Working” is ambiguous, and “software” omits mention of all the other elements of the deployed product or service necessary to put it to real use (user guides, release notes, other documentation, training, support, etc.).

– Bob

Further Reading

Online Experimentation at Microsoft ~ Ronny Kohavi et al.

The Folks That Matter™

Stakeholders, team members, the Big Team, customers, users, snakeholders – call them what you will, they’re the people that we’re doing the work for. They’re the people to whom we deliver the fruits of our efforts. They’re the people whose reactions – and emotional responses – decide the success or failure of our endeavours.

Personally I like to call them The Folks That Matter™.

By way of example, Here’s a partial list of the groups and individuals that are candidates for inclusion in the set of The Folks That Matter™.

  • Your organisation’s Core Group
  • Your manager
  • Your project manager
  • Senior managers and executives
  • Your dev team
  • Other dev teams
  • Ops people
  • The PMO
  • Testers (when separate from the dev team)
  • QA folks (when present)
  • The Process Group (when separate from the dev teams)
  • Your business sponsor(s)
  • Other people across your organisation
  • Your (end) customer(s) (and their purchasing departments)
  • Commercial partners
  • Regulators
  • Wider Society
  • The Planet (Gaia)

The Interesting Angle

For me, when I’m involved building stuff, I have a need know who we’re trying to please, delight, satisfy, or otherwise engage with and deliver to. I need to know what folks need, and who to ask about the details of those needs, if and when the detail moves to front of mind. I need to know whose needs we can successfully discount when the inevitable resource (time, money, effort) crunches come. Whose needs we can reasonably consider as outside the scope of the endeavour in which we’re involved? And I need some heuristics to guide us in decisions on including, excluding and prioritising folks and their needs.

But there’s something much more interesting than who’s on and who’s off the list of The Folks That Matter™, at any given time. The much more interesting question for me, as an Organisational Psychotherapist, is: What governs the choices? How do folks get added to or removed from the set of The Folks That Matter™? Are the means the product of rational thought, discussion and evolution, or maybe they’ve just happened, or been cargo-culted. And what are the consequences of the prevailing means? What impact do those means have on the success or failure of our endeavours? And therefore on our bottom line?

By way of example, here’s some common means for tackling the question of means:

  • Consensus
  • The Advice Process
  • Autocracy
  • Dictatorship
  • HiPPO
  • Cost of Focus

(Aside: Each collective mindset in the Marshall Model has its own popular choice for these “means”: Autocracy for the Ad-hoc, Dictatorship or HiPPO for the Analytic, Consensus or the Advice Process for the Synergistic, and e.g. Cost of Focus for the Chaordic).

Is it helpful for folks on the dev team to be involved in some way in maintaining or keeping the list of the The Folks That Matter™? Is that possible, in any given organisation? Is the question even discussable?

When Resources Are Limited, Some Folks, Needs, HAVE To Not Matter

And what about the folks that don’t matter (that don’t appear in the set of The Folks That Matter™? I know many readers will baulk at the idea that some folks and their needs don’t matter. But, please, get over yourselves. In any situation where resources are constrained (i.e finite, not infinite), choice HAVE to be made. Lines drawn. Resources committed to some areas and held back or withdrawn from others. How could it be otherwise? Inevitably then, in this particular frame, there must be Folks Who Don’t Matter™.

Cost of Focus

Don Reinertsen states that the Cost of Delay – the financial or economic cost of prioritising one feature over another – is rarely considered in most organisations. Put another way, the way in which delivery priorities are selected and adjusted, the frequency and means of such adjustments, etc., are rarely discussed, and rarely even discussable.

I propose that Cost of Delay is a subset of the wider question stated above. The question of Cost of Focus.

By definition, we are not meeting some needs when we choose to or otherwise exclude certain folks with their particular needs from the set of The Folks That Matter™.

Maybe those excluded folks and their needs are indeed irrelevant, or their exclusion has little impact – financial or otherwise – on the success of our endeavour. But maybe, contrariwise, some of those excluded needs are in fact critical to our “success”. How would we know? The arguments for Cost of Focus are much the same as for its golden child, Cost of Delay.

FWIW, I’ve seen countless projects stumble and “fail” because they inadvertently omitted, or chose to omit, some crucial folks and their needs from the their list of The Folks That Matter™. Get Cost of Delay wrong, and we lose some money. Sometime a little, sometime a lot. Get Cost of Focus wrong, and we more often lose big time. Cost of Focus often has a much more binary impact.

What is Cost of Focus?

Cost of Focus is a way of communicating the impact, on the outcomes we hope to achieve, arising from excluding or including specific folks and their needs. More formally, it is the partial derivative of the total expected value with respect to whose needs we focus on.

“Cost of Delay is the golden key that unlocks many doors. It has an astonishing power to totally transform the mind-set of a development organisation.”

– Donald G. Reinertsen

Similarly, I’d say that unless and until we have a handle on Cost of Focus, the golden key of Cost Of Delay remains firmly beyond our grasp.

Put another way, until we have a means for deciding whose needs to attend to, the particular order in which we attend to those needs (cf. priority, Cost of Delay) is moot.

– Bob

Further Reading

Who Really Matters ~ Art Kleiner

Wants, Needs

My previous post seems to have struck a chord, judging by the number of retweets on Twitter. It also presents an opportunity to explore a perennial challenge of building things for other people: teasing out real needs from expressed wants.

Have you ever worked with business folks who articulate their wants in the form of solutions, rather than as solution-free “requirements”? As means rather than ends?

Let’s take another look at the list of desired outcomes (wants) appearing in the aforementioned post:

  • A more coherent, disciplined approach to software development
  • Improved governance and oversight
  • Improved estimates
  • Better due-date performance (reliable on-time delivery)
  • More visibility into project roadmaps
  • Common standards
  • Better project organisation
  • People working “in sync”
  • Senior management confidence (in e.g. the teams’ ability to deliver)
  • Higher staff motivation and engagement

Business Analysis for the Way the Work Works

From my days as a Business Analyst, I’ve learned that uncovering needs means having an ongoing dialogue with the people that matter. A dialogue in which we dig down, together, into the things they say they want, so as to uncover their real needs. Once we’ve teased apart the wants from the needs, we’re in a better place to choose effective strategies (solutions) for addressing those needs. Going with the superficial wants tends to box us in to the strategies (means) they provide. Strategies which often fall short of being effective.

I suspect what I’m talking about will become clearer as we examine in turn each item from the above list…

Item: A more coherent, disciplined approach to software development

This looks to me like a solution masquerading as a need. That’s to say “a more coherent, disciplined approach” seems like more like means to other ends, than and end in itself. What might those ends be? What might be the underlying needs driving this proposed solution? A dialogue with the people that matter seems in order here. A dialogue that could prove challenging, absent a degree of trust and willing collaboration. And even assuming we are all able to dig down towards the underlying needs, just as in building software there’s no guarantee we’ve identified those needs accurately, until we’ve built and delivered something and seen it “in production” long enough to gather some feedback. Active feedback, which also implies iteration and evolution: “Is this really meeting the needs of everyone that matters? Is it good enough yet? What else do we need to do to improve it further?” etc..

For illustration, I’ll take a stab at the needs which might underlie this want. Maybe some folks suppose that “a more coherent, disciplined approach” will bring order to the present chaos (a need for order). Maybe some folks suppose that “a more coherent, disciplined approach” will make delivery of e.g. features or product increments more predictable (a need for predictability).

Maybe productive and effective dialogue will uncover other latent needs implicit in this want.

Item: Improved governance and oversight

This also looks to me like a solution masquerading as a need.

Maybe some folks choose “Improved governance and oversight” as their automatic, default solution (strategy) for bring order to the present chaos (a need for order).

Item: Improved estimates

This again looks to me like a solution masquerading as a need.The No Estimates movement and debate has just about done this one to death. What might the supposed need for “improved estimates” imply. What’s really need here?

Item: Better due-date performance (reliable on-time delivery)

Whilst we could imagine this as yet another solution masquerading as a need, in this case I find this want more interesting, maybe closer to a real need than the previous two items.

I suspect some folks that matter may suppose that “better due date performance” is the obvious means to improve (external) customer satisfaction, and thereby revenue, repeat business, profit, market demand, market share, and other business metrics. Maybe those involved in the way the work works, armed with an explicit, agreed need to satisfy one or more specific business metrics, would be able to come up with ways of working which effectively address those metrics. In other words, valuable innovations.

Item: More visibility into project roadmaps

This again looks to me like a solution masquerading as a need. What might be the underlying need here? Maybe it’s something born of a feeling of powerlessness in the absence of information about what’s happening. Maybe it comes from a sense of frustration or embarrassment when having to face customers and investors expecting information about product release schedules, feature sets, and road maps. Whatever the case, an effective, productive dialogue may flush out some of those underlying feelings, and thereby lead to a better understanding of the needs we’re all trying to address.

Item: Common standards

Yet again this looks to me like a solution masquerading as a need. I’ve heard this want many times in numerous companies. This looks to me like an implicit solution to the question “how do we become more flexible, how can we cost-effectively deploy and redeploy our developers between projects and project teams as business priorities change?” I guess the people that matter suppose that “common standards” is the obvious answer. But it’s our job to understand the underlying need and come up with the most effective solution (strategy) for addressing it, not just the most common solution.

But I could be barking up the wrong tree about the presumed underlying need here, so I’d want to have conversations with the people that matter so as to really understand what they might be trying to achieve through addressing this want.

Item: Better project organisation

Another solution masquerading as a need. What might “better project organisation” bring us? Better due date performance? More visibility into project roadmaps and current status? See explanations, above, for the needs which might underlie *those* wants.

Item: People working “in sync”

Solution masquerading as a need. What might “people working in sync” bring us? Reduction in friction and waste? Improved flow (of products and features into the market)? Better due date performance? By digging down, though dialogue, we may uncover candidates for the underlying needs, which we can proceed to validate through delivering a way the work works, and getting feedback on the degree to which that way of working effectively addresses folks’ real needs.

Item: Senior management confidence (in e.g. the teams’ ability to deliver)

This is probably the one item in our list of sought outcomes that’s closest to a real need. We can intuit the scale of the problem (shortfall in senior management confidence) by looking at all the solutions they’re helpfully trying to provide us with, via the other items here. Solutions (masquerading as needs) that they believe will improve things and thereby deliver the boost in confidence they seek (and need). Ironically, the solutions they provide – being very much less effective solutions than those we can come up with for them, as experts – often undermine the very outcomes they seek.

Item: Higher staff motivation and engagement

Very laudable. But let’s not let the humanity of this want blind us to its nature as (yet another) solution masquerading as a need. What’s the end in mind? Why might the people that matter seek “higher staff motivation and engagement”?

So they can feel better about the culture for which they they feel responsible? As a means to increased throughput and thus improved revenues and profits? Again, until we know what they really need, any solutions we provide will likely fall well short of the mark. In other words, wasted effort.

Summary

So, we can see that taking “sought outcomes” at face value can lead us into sleepwalking into addressing superficial wants, and adopting other people’s (non-expert, relatively ineffective) solutions. Solutions which rate poorly on the effectiveness scale, and which in any case may well be addreessin the wrong needs. I find it ironic just how much non-expert interference and micromanagement goes unnoticed, unchallenged and unlamented. Plenty of time for lamentation a year or two later.

Bottom line: When building software, the biggest risk lies in building the wrong thing (getting the requirements wrong), and it’s not any less of a risk when “building” – we might choose to call it “evolving” or even “engineering” – the way the work works.

– Bob

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