Emergent Vs. Inverted Thinking

In agile communities developers, project managers, testers, there is a phobia or paranoia about big ANYTHING up front – that is we should not spend more energy up front than is absolutely needed to get the committed stories/features done in the next iteration.

The concept that we use is emergent thinking. Requirements emerge as we bootstrap our thinking by delivering early features. Design emerges, as we build features that have similar needs, and we refactor towards opportunities for generalization or re-use. Plans emerge as we estimate and sequence the stories in the backlog.

So what happens when the requirements don’t emerge. When the design doesn’t emerge. When it feels like we are just skating on the surface, because there is too much fear of bigger change, or spending energy building anything now because it will all change in 3 weeks. When the product owner is unable to sequence the backlog because there are unmade business strategy decisions that are inhibiting the emergence of plans, requirements, and designs.

I use inverted thinking. It is the opposite of big anything up front- I envision a result (it doesn’t have to be the right result) and I build a plan to acheive that result. I work backwards from a conclusion, as if my decisions were made. I propose a design (as thin as possible) that I think will support the envisioned result. I build a plan (as thin as possible) and propose needed skills and resources.

I pretend I know everything, and when I need an answer, I make one up. But every answer I make up, I list as a decision – because that is the schedule I want. What decisions need answers in what sequence, by what date, and what deliverables are dependent.

Then I dare every stakeholder to tell me why my proposal (that I just completely fabricated out of BS) is wrong. If you can’t give me a good reason not to do this, we are going to move forward in this direction.

When the fear of making a wrong decision is inhibiting the emergence of requirements, plans and designs – Invert the thinking from “What should we do?” to “Why shouldn’t we do this?”…

…and watch decisions emerge.

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