Sunday 22 November 2015

Revisiting the Cone

In a twitter discussion with folk on the #NoEstimates thread again (I don't know why I go back there) Henrik Ebbeskog (@henebb) stated there is no reason to fix time. Absolutely, and as mentioned to others though, fixing time means the other dimensions of software delivery [are allowed to, or must] vary. This isn't a surprise to most of us in the agile space, nor is it a surprise to management scientists either.

As part of the discussion, Henrik mentioned that you could fix time to 1 second and it reminded me of a discussion I once had with an old Senior PM (at the time), Duncan McCreadie. It centred around agile development some 5 years ago and in the discussion, he stated that if he wanted to monitor an realign the delivery, he'd look to bring delivery rates down to every day or every 4 hours. He was spot on with this and I agree.

The reason is in part due to the Cone of Uncertainty I keep banging on about mathematically, and even get heckled at, but that doesn't change the math, nor does it change the empirical numbers, which also back it up.

Why Delivery Rate Matters

If you deliver software continuously, each delivery gives you knowledge about your process that you didn't have before. What has happened, has happened, you can't change that, but you can both learn from it and consider it's variance zero (it's happened - there is no variance, it's a certainty) and if you are, then make things happen faster.

This is like I illustrate in:

In essence:
You've delivered a coin flip. It's now become known and in a fixed number of delivery cycles, this changes the expected outcome for all coin flips and it's potential overall variance.
Each flip of a coin is a delivery. Now, substitute the words 'coin flip' with 'story' and 'all coin flips' to 'major release' and reread the above.

As you can see from the graphs of actual project data shown at:

This applies across the board. There isn't a real delivery process in the entire world which doesn't follow this rule. The only possible case, is if the process extends to infinity, since this just pushes out the variance to perpetuity, which follows the last [sketched] graph at:

However, you'll note that nothing exists to infinite time. Even the Universe isn't considered to be able to exist at infinite time and I'd argue that your project budget would run out before then. Using faster monitoring approaches, as well as employing lean architectures, you will make the most of that budget as well as making it easier to either align or find a new direction.



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