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Fifty shades of fail - redefining success and failure from a lean perspective


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Innovation is necessarily risky, being based on the concept of novelty; we are either trying a new idea, an existing idea in a new market, or maybe trying to create a new market altogether.
Lean and agile principles help us deal with risks and unknowns, by focusing on validated learning, deferring decisions, responding to change, but even when we fail to apply them, we might sometimes achieve some level of “success” nonetheless.

But what does “success” mean?
Can we really appreciate the importance of an exploratory approach, of validating ideas as we go, without defining what success (and hence failure) does looks like?

Going from a personal experience developing an innovative service for a large european company, where we failed to apply lean and agile principles, I explore the idea of success and how a project can be completed on time, on scope and on budget and win the hearts of customers, and still be a (bad) failure when we consider what could have been.

Published in: Software

Fifty shades of fail - redefining success and failure from a lean perspective

  1. 1. @EdMcBane Redefining success and failure from a lean perspective Fifty Shades of Fail
  2. 2. @EdMcBane Francesco Degrassi Enthusiastic yet pragmatic Lean Software Developer. Uppish and cynical nihilist from time to time.
  3. 3. @EdMcBane Lean Software Development & consultancy High availability, security, scaling Security sensitive & high uncertainty domains
  4. 4. @EdMcBane Do lean/agile improve our chances of success?
  5. 5. @EdMcBane Diverging perspectives on success
  6. 6. @EdMcBane What are the success factors we do consider?
  7. 7. @EdMcBane It’s a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result. A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. [A project] must be expertly managed to deliver the on-time, on-budget results, learning and integration that organizations need. The project model “ ”from the PMI website
  8. 8. @EdMcBane On time
  9. 9. @EdMcBane On scope ▶ Somewhat fixed scope ▶ Ability to respond to change and value of feedback are completely ignored ▶ Focuses on ability to execute rather than explore
  10. 10. @EdMcBane On budget Arbitrary. What if ▶ the budget is too high? ▶ going over budget is the best investment?
  11. 11. @EdMcBane Scope + (time | budget) = estimates
  12. 12. @EdMcBane Unclear business goal and success criteria, unvalidated assumptions “We want a traffic monitoring service integrated into our PaaS offering to allow users to check their bandwidth usage, uplink health and provide real-time alerts.” We want to increase the revenue for our PaaS offering. We believe an integrated traffic monitoring service featuring bandwidth monitoring, uplink health and real- time alerts will offer our clients better visibility into their deployments that is worth a hefty premium. Our goal is an increase of ARPU of 10€/m within 18 months.
  13. 13. @EdMcBane Multiple possible causes ▶ Communication failure ▶ Mismatched roles ▶ Ignorance is bliss ▶ Success by revisionism
  14. 14. @EdMcBane Local goals vs global goals
  15. 15. @EdMcBane
  16. 16. @EdMcBane Knowledge has a marginal role
  17. 17. @EdMcBane Potential value & time horizon ▶ Knowledge only has potential value ▶ Acting on knowledge realizes it ▶ Value of knowledge expires ▶ Different time horizons ○ individual ○ project, company, group ○ society, ...
  18. 18. @EdMcBane
  19. 19. @EdMcBane Where does this lead us?
  20. 20. @EdMcBane Waste and unrealized potential ▶ Unnecessary features ▶ Unnecessary delays ▶ Missed opportunities for learning ▶ Lost knowledge
  21. 21. @EdMcBane Diminishing returns
  22. 22. @EdMcBane
  23. 23. @EdMcBane
  24. 24. @EdMcBane Agility blindness Time, scope and budget can’t measure the impact of: ▶ shorter lead times ▶ ability to respond to change ▶ learning cycles
  25. 25. @EdMcBane What can we do?
  26. 26. @EdMcBane Redefine success to consider ▶ Business value delivered ▶ Distribution of value over time ▶ Return(maximum or at least non negative) ▶ Knowledge gained (actionable within the company time horizon)
  27. 27. @EdMcBane Some things to try out ▶ high-level, goal oriented metrics ○ partnership model based on profit sharing ▶ shift towards a product metaphor ▶ visualization of benefits from early delivery ▶ visualization of negative marginal returns ▶ a scientific approach...
  28. 28. @EdMcBane Hypothesis driven development Barry O’Reilly: Jeffrey L. Taylor:
  29. 29. @EdMcBane ▶ What is the business goal of the project? ▶ What are the success criteria? ▶ How would this {story | feature | task} move us towards that goal? ▶ Is it worthwhile from a value / cost perspective? ▶ Can we split it up? ▶ Is all this based on facts or assumptions? ▶ How can we validate those assumptions quickly and inexpensively? ▶ It’s done. What did we learn and how can we act on that? ▶ Is it time to pull the plug? questions to keep in mind
  30. 30. @EdMcBane Thanks! @EdMcBane