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Product Thinking, Part 2: Production

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Product Thinking, Part 2: Production

What do mapping out a walk across town and software production have in common? They'll both probably require detours for which you were unable to plan.

· Agile Zone ·
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Production: The action of making or manufacturing from components or raw materials, or the process of being so manufactured.

Projection: An estimate or forecast of a future situation based on a study of present trends.

(first Google results).

It is funny how people think they can control the future. Every time someone asks for an estimate, every time someone asks for a deadline, we are gambling. We are trusting our intuition and experience to provide certainty, then we ask people to lay bets on it. Maybe you are not aware of it, but the last time you put a Gantt chart in front of a stakeholder and provided a cost, that is exactly what you did: you started taking bets.

I do not like to gamble with stakeholder money. If I want an adrenaline rush, I can do that on my time, not on my customer's dime.

So what does this have to do with production?

We know the difference between a product and a project. We may use a project to arrive at a product, but sometimes we lose sight of the difference between the two.

Walking across the street is a gamble, but we accept some risk because we take steps to mitigate it: we tie our shoes, we look both ways, we try not to text, we don’t take a nap in the middle of the road, and unless we are extremely unlucky we won’t get hit by a self-driving car. This is the importance of having a plan. Even if we are not consciously aware of it, we have a plan to reach the other side of the street.

Walking around a city is more complex. Our plan has to consider increasing variables and unknowns for every block we “project” in our future path. We may find obstacles that require us to change course, and quite frequently. We also may discover places that add value to our journey that we did not contemplate in our original plan.

Anyone who has walked around Manhattan in New York City can understand this, no matter what your tastes may be. There is something for everyone. Say your plan is to walk from the Upper West Side to City Hall, following Broadway. Good plan, right? You give yourself a day, and you head down Broadway. According to your estimate and velocity, you should get there in a few hours.

You pass Times Square, and you notice one block off to your right there is a charming restaurant with some cuisine you have always wanted to try. Further along, you see there is a sale at Macy’s and those shoes in the window are just precious. Or there is construction happening that takes you two blocks deeper into Chinatown, a place you have always been curious about. All of these are real possibilities. Did your plan foresee them?

Maybe a better plan would be: I am going to walk from the Upper West Side with the goal of reaching City Hall, but I will measure my progress and value by block, or a series of blocks. I will not set a fixed time of arrival or a route, but I will try to cover an average of 12 blocks every hour (I have no idea if this is realistic, so I may change this on the way). If I do not get to City Hall by sunset, I can take the subway, but I may lose the value of what I may discover walking the remaining distance. That is a choice I can make. If you have ever been to New York City, you know that every block is its own world and full of surprises (by the way, if you have never been, you should visit).

I can measure the value I get from every block on my journey.

Production is a process, not a forecast. The goal is a predictable result that has value.

Back to gambling. Gambling is fun if that is your thing. But it is not something we usually associate with delivering business value. What we want is to establish the rules that guarantee a successful product. The house always wins in the long run.

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Topics:
agile ,production ,development process

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