Skip to main content

Welcome to the not knowing ( we need to embrace uncertainty ) - Mike Cohn

In one scene of the TV show Mad Men, a young advertising copywriter (Peggy Olson) asks her boss (Don Draper) how to know which of her advertising ideas will work best.
He tells her she can’t know in advance, which frustrates her. He then adds that part of her job is “living in the not knowing.”

Part of our job, too, is living in the not knowing.

To survive--perhaps even thrive--here in the not knowing, we need to become comfortable with uncertainty. That means we can’t:
  • Know six months in advance exactly what will be delivered on what date and at what cost
  • Know exactly how much more productive one team is than another
  • Know how users will respond to a feature before they see it

Similarly, we can’t even really know things such as that velocity will go up when a good, new member is added to the team. It should, but it’s not guaranteed.
I can think of at least a couple of situations in which adding a good person to the team reduced velocity for more than the first few sprints while the team adjusted to the new member.
And, of course, we can’t know what external forces may affect our product, company or industry.

We are all living in the not knowing.

What can we do about it? As Kent Beck put in the subtitle of his book XP Explained, we need to embrace uncertainty. We can do that by:

  • Realizing that whatever uncertainties our organization faces are also faced by our competitors. To outdo your competition, you don’t need certainty. You just need to deal with uncertainty better than they do.
  • Not wasting needless time trying to eliminate uncertainty that cannot be eliminated. You could waste a lot of time striving for certainty. And living in the not-knowing, you’ll never reach it, so stop trying.
  • Acting on whatever information you already have or can get quickly and efficiently. In a world where we can’t know everything, the best recourse is to act on what we already know and then learn more by iterating on the product.
Welcome to the not knowing. The sooner you can get used to being here, the sooner you can succeed with agile,
Mike

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

SCRUM- Who should write a user story

Traditionally user stories (or requirements) were written by Business analysts. They used to prepare big documents after months of study. It was a herculean task. I used to get such UI/Functional specification documents. I have fixed a lot of bugs because I missed few text in such 1000 + pages document. This is not the only interesting part. Some of the requirements were so weird that I often wondered why I am creating the features which no one is going to use. If I had the option I would have recommended a better option. If the BA’s misunderstood some requirements & customers failed to correct those few words in the epic requirement then we will have a nice situation. In the agile world the story is different. Product Owners are primarily responsible for user stories. But can anyone else also contribute? Yes. Definitely yes In actual environment many users write user stories. The first requirement may come from end user. The PO, tech architect, scrum master, BA’s... anyone can up

What are the rules of scrum?

A relatively new person to scrum asked me this question last day. My answer to that person was yes. But really does the scrum have any rules? Scrum is a framework which helps us in developing software. It has very few rules and apart from those basic rules rest of them are guidelines like best practices. Some of the rules  The roles of Scrum • Scrum Master -  http://www.theagileschool.com/2012/03/scrummasters-checklist-roles.html • Product Owner • Feature Team The PDCA cycle ( http://www.theagileschool.com/2012/05/pdca-scrum-or-agile-why-is-it-important.html  )  frequent communication about risks (daily) • Plan – Sprint planning • Do – Actual engineering sprint – deliver a potential shippable code • Check – Sprint review • Act – Retrospective  The scrum guide @ http://www.scrum.org/Scrum-Guides will be a good guideline for teams/companies planning to start scrum. If you are following the recommendation in these then you are following scrum. Apart from these rest of

Product Backlog: Should you write everything in user story format?

I like user stories a lot. They help everyone talk the same language and results in a better product. User story alone does not constitute product requirement. User story is supposed to be a place holder for discussion which should happen between the team, Product Owner and the customer. This discussion result in a common understanding which along with the user story content is the product requirement. This format captures the essence of requirement without confusing the readers User Story is only one of the many different ways in which requirements can be represented. This is not mandatory in any Agile “process”. But many have made this mandatory. I have seen many spending countless hours trying to write the requirements in user story format when they could have easily written that in simple one-line sentence in few minutes.   I have seen team members refusing to even discuss the requirement until product owner rewrote the requirement in user story format. Once I