We brush our teeth to avoid cavities; a process and an outcome.

We brush our teeth to avoid cavities; a process and an outcome.

There is no consensus on how risk is managed in Agile projects or releases or whether there is a need for any special steps. Risk is defined as “any uncertain event that can have an impact on the success of a project.” Risk management, on the other hand, is about predicting the future. Risk management is a reflection of the need manage the flow of work in the face of variability. Variability in software development can be defined as the extent that any outcome differs from expectations. Understanding and exploiting that variability is the essence of risk management. Variability is exacerbated by a number of factors, such as the following.

  1. Complexity in any problem is a reflection of the number of parts to the problem, how those parts interact and the level of intellectual difficulty. The more complex a problem, the less likely you will be able to accurately predict the delivery of a solution to the problem. Risk is reduced by relentlessly focusing on good design and simplifying the problem. Reflecting the Agile principle of simplicity, reducing the work to only what is absolutely needed is one mechanism for reducing variability.
  2. Size of project or release influences the overall variability by increasing the number of people involved in delivering an outcome and therefore the level of coordination needed. Size is a form of complexity. Size increases the possibility that there will be interactions and dependencies between components of the solution. In a perfect world, the work required to deliver each requirement and system component would be independent of each other, however when this can’t be avoided projects need mechanisms to identify and deal with dependencies. An example of a mechanism to address complexity created by size is the release planning event is SAFe.
  3. Ad hoc or uncontrolled processes can’t deliver a consistent output. We adopt processes in order to control the outcome. We brush our teeth to avoid cavities; a process and an outcome. When a process is not under control, the outcome is not predictable. In order for a process to be under control, the process needs to be defined and then performed based on that definition. Processes need to be defined in as simple and lean a manner possible to be predictable.
  4. People are chaotic by nature. Any process that includes people will be more variable than the same process without people. Fortunately we have not reached the stage in software development where machines have replaced people (watch any of the Terminator or Matrix movies). The chaotic behavior of teams or teams of teams can be reduced through alignment. Alignment can be achieved at many levels. At release or program level, developing a common goal and understanding of business need helps to develop alignment. At a team level, stable teams helps team members build interpersonal bonds leading to alignment. Training is another tool to develop or enhance alignment.

Software development, whether the output maintenance, enhancements or new functionality a reflection of processes that have a degree of variability. Variability, while generally conceived of as being bad and therefore to be avoided, could be good or bad. Finding a new was to deliver work that increases productivity and quality is good. The goal for any project or release is to reduce the possibility of negative variance and then learning to use what remains to best advantage.

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