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21 October 2009


Vikrama Dhiman

How can one manage for the unknowns? What does Agile lack that stops you from managing the unknown?


You can't manage the unknowns...only react to them...even in agile be sure to not load up the sprint backlog so the tasks are 100% of your team's optimistic full capacity.

Josh Nankivel

Jim Benson


But you can manage unknowns, by ensuring you have the capacity to react to them and the processes in place to spot them as soon as possible.

If your team does not understand the value they are providing (what they are doing, why they are doing it, how it fits into the company) then it is much less likely that people will spot an "unknown" until it becomes a full-fledged problem.

It is very possible to manage unknowns.

Jim Benson


While totally answering your question would require another post, or maybe a book, I'll try to make this work here. :-)

Agile methodologies are team-based productivity systems that tend to isolate development teams from the rest of the organization. This is certainly not the intent - but I've seen it time and again.

Scrum and XP are entirely unique processes to the dev team and have very weak communication rules outward. The original rhetoric of agile was very anti-management and the methods reflect that.

This means that Agile unwittingly creates its own silos. Constructs like client proxies and product owners - while infinitely better than what came before them - become bottlenecks where individuals are designated with tasks that are often better left distributed to the entire team.

Agile methods also do little to define the value that individual coders are providing to the overall organization. Again, this isn't the intention of Agile, but I see it repeatedly. Programming therefore ends up being an isolated task, where your backlog is provided in-bulk from outside sources who are clueless to the actual amount of work a team can complete at a given time.

Metrics like velocity measured through burndown charts do not have the statistical rigor necessary to communicate actual throughput to higher ups. Again, was it better than what came before? Certainly. Is it useful? Certainly. But it isn't a leading indicator for good future predictions - it is a good lagging indicator of past issues and performance.

In order to manage unknowns, a team needs to be actively plugged into the organization, have adequate communication internally / externally, have capacity (slack) to deal with surprises, and intimately understand their throughput.

Like I said, I've used agile for 12 years now. It has served me well. But over the last several years, I have become an agile repair man - going in and helping teams make those next steps.

Karen Anderson

This cheered me up. I just responded to an RFP that asked me to describe my process for doing something. I sent them a flowchart of the process in which several of the steps were ways to deal with things that go wrong. I'll be curious to see how the agency deals feels about that.


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