As you probably know this blog was partly inspired by my frustration with managers and leadership who compared IT delivery with factories. This year at Agile Australia I was very positively surprised that the topic of the factory metaphor came up in a few talks. I am really glad we finally talk about the problems that stem from management using manufacturing thinking for IT delivery. Given I have spoken about this before I don’t want revisit the reasons here and rather spend a bit of time on an alternative model that was put forward at the conference by Dom Price from Atlassian—it’s not a factory it’s a lab. Look at this slide from the talk for a summary of why the Labs model is more appropriate.
There is a lot I like about the Labs metaphor that could inspire better management—the inherent uncertainty around IT delivery, the data driven nature supported by the scientific method, building in failure as a normal occurrence for which we try to minimize the impact instead of assuming we could prevent it. That being said, I feel the Labs model might be taking it perhaps a step too far as there is a level of predictability that is required by management and by business stakeholders. A delivery roadmap highlighting features to be delivered is often underpinning the business case. I might be too far away from scientific labs and the right examples might exist, but it is my impression that those roadmaps are less common in labs than we would want in IT. My experience with labs has been that timelines are full of unknowns, more than we would accept in IT delivery.
At this point, there are three mental models that I am aware of, the factory, the design studio and the lab. I believe the first one is the dangerous one to use as inspiration for management principles, for the last two I am hopeful that combined it might make for the right inspiration for management going forward. I have to think a bit more about this on the back of Agile Australia. Stay tuned as I will be coming back to this topic.