Tuesday, December 11, 2012

We Won't Fail, and It Won't Be Fast

"Let's try it, and fail fast" may not always be a wise approach.

We had an issue: our project was being asked to carry on a piece of work in a predetermined way. We had fundamental disagreements with the proposed approach. We thought it was inefficient, adds unnecessary complexity, and a lot of waste. However, we faced considerable pressure to go along, given certain organizational and political constraints.

The idea was coined: "Let's just try it, and fail fast, when it becomes clear it's really not adequate for the task at hand." As appealing as this might seem, it embodies considerable risk.

Let's say we did that. We proceed developing the application the way we are asked. We waste our time building this interface, integrating to this system, persisting transient, in-process data elements, etc. Now, at what point exactly do we fail fast?

Consider the following two observations:
  • We always want to make things work, and
  • Waste is not always acknowledged as such.
Even when we work in a less than ideal environment, we always want to make the best of it. Even when our team is asked to accomplish a task while unfairly constrained, we will work hard to reach the best outcome. We will make it work, whatever the cost might be. What we end up with is, still, far from ideal, but we will go the distance, because we don't like to fail.

When we then try to show the powers that be how much more complexity or waste there is, it's unlikely that it will be acknowledged as such. For example, if your team's productivity was hindered by a requirement to keep reams of documentations uptodate all the time at every step along the way, with no consumer of this information whatsoever, someone, likely from the powers that be circle, will rise to assert how much valuable that will eventually be.

The world of large enterprises today has lots of hidden inefficiencies, originating from silo-ed teams, and competing divisions. While we should always challenge this state, we should also understand when failing fast is not a realistic option.