More imagination less production line thinking please

I could pick any number of tweets over the last couple of weeks telling us how hypothesis are better than questions, are better than stakeholder stories, are better than user stores, are better than use cases are better than features, are better than tasks etc.

OK there is some merit in these thoughts. Kinda.

What worries me is the monumental lack of imagination sitting behind this constant rehashing of the same basic idea.

We get it we do. You have some work. Break it down into small chunks of work and then work on them one at a time or in a batch. It’s a production line. Introduced by Ford in 1913 (but probably pre-dating that by a few hundred years). Of course Toyota did something with their one piece flow. However the fundamental idea remains the same.

So why is everyone applying this same mindset to knowledge work or more specifically software development? I thought I’d explore the “Product Roadmap” to think about how things could be done differently.

A traditional roadmap would consist of a list of features with timescales against each. You can almost smell the factory feel to this approach. Imagine new models of car rolling off the production line. One at a time. No uncertainty in this vision.

So people are challenging this view of things. They want to change the concept of a “feature release”, to be something else perhaps a lean startup style list of hypothesis. Or framing the feature as a question to be answered. This is a small step forward for sure. But surely not a paradigm shift.

What I find ironic in this example is we have the essence of at least one different way of doing things in the name itself. A roadmap could push us in a totally different direction. Imagine mapping our knowledge about the environment in which the product exists?

This is not the pin-point accurate maps we get these days, more the sketchy mappa-mundi of days gone by. After all we now where we are and we know even better where we’ve been. The rest of the map can then explore possible future directions we can take. Perhaps sign-posting areas of interest we should consider visiting. Or the classic “here be dragons” area we should avoid.

Neither is this just a plea for more creativity. There is some theoretical basis to the shift in mindset too. Complex systems research suggest that by considering a multiple viewpoints (both at different scales and from different perspectives) this helps better understand the dynamics of the system we are considering. Also the use of options are often promoted as a way of thriving when facing complexity. Both of these can be easily visualised in map format.

So please start challenging the production line whenever the work becomes more about thinking than it does about doing.

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