Attack Risk before it Attacks You!

Risk undermines predictability in software development – every development effort includes some unknowns. Some development is relatively risk free – for example, writting another driver that is 90% the same as one done previously, but just using a different interface signature. But most involve considerable risk – technology you haven’t used before, or a new domain, or a backend system you’ve never had to integrate with previously. Often these unknown aspects are left to late in the project – we naturally tend to do the easiest things first – it gives us a feeling of progress, and puts off the ‘hard’ work till another day. But this approach just stores up risk in the project. We often see this at the end of a project or release cycle, where the problems getting our system working only appear when we try to integrate all the individual bits at the end of the project, or tackle that tricky feature we’ve been avoiding. Thats when the risk in the project attacks our schedule – so many projects seem to be progressing fine until the last 10-20% when the slippages begin to show.
Agile and lean attacks the risk before it can attack you – by including risk as well as value in your prioritisation strategy, risky bits are addressed early in the project. And by insisting potentially releasable, working software is delivered from every iteration/sprint, you ensure that risk is dealt with as early as possible.
While plan-driven, waterfall methods attempt to improve predictability by ‘planning’ away risk, incremental approaches like agile and Kanban improve it by attacking it early in the cycle. They swop what can be an illusion of predictability with a more pragmatic approach to managing risk.

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