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Chapter 4. Adapting over Conforming > Responding to Change

Responding to Change

We expect change (uncertainty) and respond accordingly rather than follow outdated plans.

This statement reflects the agile viewpoint characterized further by

  • Envision-Explore versus Plan-Do

  • Adapting versus anticipating

In Artful Making, Harvard Business School professor and colleague Rob Austin and his coauthor Lee Devin (2003) discuss a $125 million IT project disaster in which the company refused to improvise and change from the detailed plan set down prior to the project’s start. “‘Plan the work and work the plan’ was their implicit mantra,” they write. “And it led them directly to a costly and destructive course of action.... We’d all like to believe that this kind of problem is rare in business. It’s not.”

Every project has knowns and unknowns, certainties and uncertainties, and therefore every project has to balance planning and adapting. Balancing is required because projects also run the gamut from production-style ones in which uncertainty is low, to exploration-style ones in which uncertainty is high. Exploration-style projects, similar to development of the Sketchbook Pro© product introduced in Chapter 1, require a process that emphasizes envisioning and then exploring into that vision rather than detailed planning and relatively strict execution of tasks. It’s not that one is right and the other wrong, but that each style is more or less applicable to a particular project type.

Another factor that impacts project management style is the cost of an iteration; that is, the cost of experimenting. Even if the need for innovation is great, high iteration costs may dictate a process with greater anticipatory work. Low-cost iterations, like those mentioned earlier, enable an adaptive style of development in which plans, architectures, and designs evolve concurrently with the actual product.

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