Thursday, February 21, 2013

Antifragile Project Management

What We Can Learn From the “Farm”

A favorite parable within the Agile community is “The Tale of the Chicken and the Pig.” In the tale the Chicken suggests to the Pig that they start a breakfast joint together, pooling their resources to serve ham and eggs. The Pig is understandably reluctant, saying "I'd be committed, but you'd only be involved..." The story helps to distinguish between the stakeholders who do the work (pigs) and those who are only interested in, and supportive of, the success of the project (chickens).

Another useful farmyard parable is the tale of the Turkey, a favorite of Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s.  Taleb’s book “Antifragile” is a deep investigation into systems that gain from chaos and disorder.  

And thus begins the story of the Turkey:

Each day, the Turkey is fed a delicious meal by the Farmer. As surely as the sun would rise, she received her satisfying meals with steadfast regularity. Diligent, she did her research, reviewing her KPI with the appropriate experts, and her confidence in the Farmer’s reliability steadily increased as did her quantity of feed. Naturally she predicted that the trend would continue…
Antifragile Project Management 
Of course, we know better than the Turkey; come Thanksgiving, shortly after receiving her largest meal of all time, she met an unexpected end.

In project management sometimes we know as much about our big chaotic world as the Turkey knows about the Farmer's intentions.  The Turkey believes that she has adequate information to predict the future, much like the implicit assumption behind Waterfall methods where the initial "plan" dictates the final product.

Relying on a specific plan can blind both poultry and project members to new opportunities that arise. While the Waterfallists are busy tracking how far off schedule they are, the Agilists have noticed that half the stuff they’d planned isn't what their customers want. 

In industries where problems are open ended, like software, marketing and design, we must acknowledge that we don't know everything at the outset.

Know your pigs from your chicken’s and don’t be a Turkey. Be antifragile by being agile: develop your teams culture, processes and mindsets so that you can adapt quickly when things don't go as planned. 

Acknowledging the unknown is halfway to anticipating and overcoming the unexpected.