The amount of variability that we will encounter with software projects depends upon the individual context of each project. In situations where there is very low variability in both the business and technical domains, an agile approach may not appear advantageous since more is known than unknown, but these situations are not common. (However, an agile approach can still be beneficial through its support of things like continuous improvement, low overhead, visibility and transparency.)
Even if we believe that we are in a low-variability scenario, it more likely that we are: a) underestimating the amount of variability involved and/or, b) overlooking something concerning the entire customer value stream where we are a part of a larger process.
Let’s consider the latter point first using an example from my previous post, where I talked about the implementation of home or auto insurance in our software (for a company where I previously worked). I stated that this was all about transforming a previously defined and approved insurance product definition into our software using tools that we provided. Using this perspective, there was low technical and business variability.
But this is also a limited view of the entire value stream from a customer’s perspective. If we expand our thinking a little, it becomes clear that there is an opportunity to combine the actual product definition for regulatory approval purposes and its implementation in our software. In other words, if we actively participated in the upstream product definition activities, we could make things more efficient and effective for the customer.
Moving back to the first point about underestimating variability, the historical track record of software projects delivering on time, on budget, with expected features speaks for itself. As covered in Chapter One, it doesn’t happen often, and odds are that we will contend with enough variability to throw us off our pre-planned track. This doesn’t make variability the enemy, just something we need to acknowledge and manage.
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