Taking Inefficiency to New Heights

March 16, 2003 by
Filed under: Agility, Project management 

Quite often in the industry, we talk about rework and administrative overhead causing huge inefficiencies for development teams. Bugs get injected early and aren’t caught until much later – more people get involved in the fix, and work that was based on flawed assumptions has been for naught. Communication breaks down as the team grows or as the project wears on, and e-mail and useless meetings consume way too much precious time.

There is another level of inefficiency, though, that can even strike teams with great communication skills and diligence that allows them to efficiently catch bugs as they are injected. Let’s look at an analogy…

Imagine you are driving the family down the coast to San Francisco from Vancouver. You’ve got a TripTik from your Automobile Club, which is in essence a detailed schedule of the route you are going to take. You start your journey, carefully staying on the route, watching your speed and taking the appropriate breaks for the kids – you are progressing nicely…

Suddenly, it’s decided that it’s better to head to Calgary. Whether you made the decision or not, the TripTik you had is now useless, and you may actually be further from your destination that you would have been had you stayed home. With a hastily scribbled path on a map and slightly marred resolve, you head back North…only to find that once you are almost there, it’s decided that…well, you get the picture.

In software, without the diligence up front to understand and share the vision of the product you are building, there is grave danger of changing horses midstream, which can all but invalidate the effort expended to date and the product produced. Even if there is a solid internal vision for your destination, you need to jealously guard against external influences that can disrupt you just the same. Certainly respond to market influences, but avoid being jerked around by an unrepresentative subset of your market. This is not a caution against change when necessary, but a caution that initial diligence can go a long way to prevent massive waste downstream.

While rework and administrative overhead can be addressed at the ground level through refined practices, these efforts are wasted if the management level cannot maintain a consistent vision and direction for the group. The cost can be difficult to recover from – monetarily and otherwise – as you efficiently head towards constantly changing destinations that you never arrive at. – JB

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