Common Threads – Retreat and Failure

Saturday, September 16, 2006 – 5:29 AM

Agile teams have use the concept of the “last responsible moment” – the last point at which a decision like a change in architecture, implementation or dependency can be made. In extreme cases this might include cutting the project entirely. Alpine climbers have a similar concept, the “turnaround time or point”. This is the last point on a climb where retreat is safely possible, either to descend safely before darkness or food runs out or because above this climbers must pass a feature which will be very hard or maybe impossible to descend safely.

In both cases after this point the team is committed to it’s decision and reversibility is probably not possible – you are failing forwards. In both cases this level of commitment dramatically increases risk.

Why don’t software projects “retreat” more often? In some cases a lack of courage to speak up when things aren’t right – “if they cut the project will I loose my job?”. But in most cases there simply isn’t enough feedback and enguagement from customers and stakeholders as to the state or value of the project and what feedback there is can be ignored. Maybe climbers retreat more often because the feedback from their environment is harder to ignore – rockfall or weather.

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