Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Peeling potatoes

I had an interesting conversation with an enlightened product manager recently. We love to converse in analogies, and a recent one surrounded the difficulty of completing the required scope of our release plan in the timeframe allotted. So, out sprung the analogy... trying to fit 10 pounds of potatoes into a one-pound [capacity] bag.

The extension to the analogy is that peeling the potatoes to make them fit is an insufficient approach. It may be appealing in the sense that you're making progress, but the order of magnitude difference required to make the potatoes fit will never be satisfied by a peeling approach.

A similar analogy might be suggesting to folks on the Titanic that they pick up a bucket and start bailing.

When great change is needed, great courage is required to make game-changing differences in approach. Otherwise, you're just postponing your date of failure.


eyeheartwindows said...

I think it's interesting to flip this analogy. Trying to fill a 15 lb potato bag with 1 lb of potatoes. It shouldn't be a big problem as the bag already has 5 lbs of rotten potatoes in it to get you started.

Adrian said...

An excellent extension to the analogy. We might call this brownfield potato packing.

Shaun said...

I like the analogy here. The problem is that you've reduced the size of each "potato" by 90% and still have exactly "1 pound of potatoes" (overall scope = 100%). This starts to beg the question of exactly HOW you've shaved 90% off of each "potato" in order to fit more "potatoes" ("features") in the bag. I think you run the risk here of sacraficing the quality of each "potato" for the sake of having a higher quantity of them.

This is where I think the classic "triple constraint" goes off the rails a bit. This model assumes you can choose only 2 among "Good" (quality/scope), "Fast" (time), and "Cheap" (cost). I look at scope and quality as connected, but not the same. Therefore I would consider this more of a "quadruple constraint", where you have 4 dimensions (Time/Cost/Scope/Quality), and rather than prioritizing 2 or 3 of those absolutely, you find a balance. Given this model, you can demonstrate a give-and-take relationship with respect to scope and quality. I'd postulate that "All things being equal (i.e. schedule and budget constraints being constant), an increase in scope will trigger a decrease in quality and vice-versa."

To apply my "impossible square" model, I offer 3 ways you can increase your scope by a factor of 10, or "fit 10 pounds of potatoes into a one-pound bag":
1) Increase TIME. You need the time to fill up the bag with 1 pound of potatoes, empty it, fill it with the second pound, empty it, and so on.
2) Increase COST. Given a larger budget, you can hire 9 additional people to each simultaneously fill separate 1-pound bags.
3) Decrease QUALITY. This is where the peeling comes in.

(Sorry for taking the long way around to my point.)