Book Notes: A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table by Mark Schwartz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The relationship between IT and the rest of the business has been defined in the same terms as that of a contractor to its customer, where the business negotiates terms with IT and then frets about its ability to control IT’s delivery and customer service.

As such businesses are missing out on the value they could be receiving from agile:

  • Learning: In Agile we learn as we go and incorporate what we learn. In a plan-driven approach, we can only learn to the extent that it doesn’t change our original plan. Which is better: To adjust as we learn, or to reject learning for the sake of the plan?
  • Nimbleness: In Agile we harness change to the company’s advantage. As a project proceeds, circumstances change. Competitors introduce new products. The government introduces new regulations. New technologies appear. Our choice is between changing the plan to accommodate new developments or ignoring new developments.
  • Course Correction: In Agile we adjust course based on feedback-from users, from a product owner, from objective measures of system performance, and from management. The alternatives are to get less feedback or to ignore feedback.
  • Delivery: In Agile we deliver quickly and frequently to users. In the plan-driven approach, delivery often comes at the end of the project. Early delivery lets the baseness get value earlier (and there is a time value of money) and checks to see whether the product actually works in an operational setting.
  • Risk: In Agile we reduce risk by testing and delivering in short increments. At any given time, we risk only the small increment being worked on. In the plan driven approach, on the other hand, risk increases until delivery-the more we do without finishing and delivering, the more is at risk from defects, operational problems, or our inability to finish.
  • Salvage Value: In Agile we can terminate a project at any time without wasting money, since all the work to date has been delivered and is in use. In a plan-driven approach with delivery at the end, terminating the project before completion generally means that nothing has been salvaged.
  • Budget Adherence: In the Agile approach, we can ensure that we work within a budget. We simply adjust scope as necessary to fit within the given resources. With the plan-driven approach, we must keep working until we complete the plan the defined scope-even if that means we run behind schedule or over budget. Or we can terminate the project without delivering anything.
  • Technical Practices: The Agile tool-set is powerful, and technical excellence is highly valued. Techniques can include zero-downtime deployments; A/B testing; and clustered, containerised micro-services for high availability. Tools such as burn-down charts give us the most accurate way to gauge the status of an initiative; task boards bring teams together with a common picture of the work in progress; cumulative flow diagrams help us pinpoint process flaws; and value stream maps help us diagnose the underlying sources of waste.

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