Stop Signs

Knowing when to stop is important, and sometimes it is easier than others to pick up the signs.  It depends on our focus.

Focus on Outcomes

When we understand why we use the principles of agile and lean, and we remain focused on the outcomes it is easier to see when to stop.

  •  When our fast feedback loops inform us that we are building the wrong thing
  • When our first release to the market does not delight our customers as expected
  • When we thought it might take 2 iterations to build and discover we are not even halfway through after 1 iteration

Focus on Method

Sometimes we think that if we follow a process perfectly, then we will always get a good outcome – this obscures the stop signs.  Methods are good – but should not be our focus.

  • Methods give us a shared context and language so that it is easier for us to work together
  • Methods help to provide regularity, this can give us measures that we can use to observe impacts – but do not use them as targets because they will be gamed

Focus on Speed

This focus will help us to miss most of the stop signs because we are only observing how fast we are going.

Innovation and Misinterpretation

Misinterpreting something is often seen as a  bad thing – there is another way to look at it.

It is not possible to know for cetain if we have understood another point of view fully, because we are ourselves and not someone else – so there is always some degree of misinterpretation.  The other extreme is when we get something wrong such as interpreting a red traffic light as ‘go’.  The gradient of states in between could look something like this.

The Gradient of Misinterpretation

Between shared understanding and embarrassment lies the potential for innovation and new ideas.  This is one aspect of what we are trying to leverage when we use brainstorming – someone says one thing that helps us to think of something else.  It also works well on Twitter – the text limit forms a constraint that limits shared understanding.  If we can avoid going too close to embarrassment and wrong, we get a fertile field for new ideas.


Why do we Estimate?

The first question we naturally ask when we have an idea is ‘How much will it cost?’

The main reason we do this is in order to make a decision about whether to proceed with the idea or not.

Asking the question this way will often result in a lot of work in many delivery teams, understanding the idea and then estimating how much it will cost to develop.  By the time we have done all this work it is as if we have started the project already – so we can find it very hard to stop.

It is more useful to ask ‘How much are we prepared to spend on this idea?’  A good way to do this is to use the IRACIS template and ask ourselves about the goals and drivers for this idea.  For each goal or driver, capture the item into the most appropriate box – does it Increase Revenue, Avoid Costs or Increase Service to our customers?

Next we look at the metrics and measures we would use to determine if each of the goals and drivers were met.  Would we count the number of sales? Would we look for a drop in complaints?  Could we reduce or delay investment? ….and so on…….

The next question is ‘With all of these benefits, how much should we be prepared to spend in order to meet these goals?’

This can be very hard to answer in a work context – but we do it all the time in our home lives.  For example, if I want to buy bananas, I already know how much I am prepared to spend.  If they are more than I have budgeted for, then I do not buy them.

Once we have the amount that we are prepared to spend, there are many light workshop techniques we can use to get an idea of the work involved in the solution and whether we think it is possible to build for the desired spend.

Back to the reason for estimation – to make a decision about whether to proceed or not with the idea.  If we estimate that we can build the solution for the desired spend, then let’s continue with the idea.

If not, then stop and spend no further effort on it.