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Naresh Jain's Random Thoughts on Software Development and Adventure Sports
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Measure Twice, Cut Once

Recently TV tweeted saying:

Is “measure twice, cut once” an #agile value? Why shouldn’t it be – it is more fundamental than agile.

To which I responded saying:

“measure twice, cut once” makes sense when cost of a mistake & rework is huge. In software that’s not the case if done in small, safe steps. A feedback centric method like #agile can help reduce the cost of rework. Helping you #FailFast and create opportunities for #SafeFailExperiements. (Extremely important for innovation.)

To step back a little, the proverb “measure twice and cut once” in carpentry literally mean:

“One should double-check one’s measurements for accuracy before cutting a piece of wood; otherwise it may be necessary to cut again, wasting time and material.”

Speaking more figuratively it means “Plan and prepare in a careful, thorough manner before taking action.”

Unfortunately many software teams literally take this advice as

“Let’s spend a few solid months carefully planning, estimating and designing software upfront, so we can avoid rework and last minute surprise.”

However after doing all that, they realize it was not worth it. Best case they delivered something useful to end users with about 40% rework. Worst case they never delivered or delivered something buggy that does not meet user’s needs. But what about the opportunity cost?

Why does this happen?

Humphrey’s law says: “Users will not know exactly what they want until they see it (may be not even then).

So how can we plan (measure twice) when its not clear what exactly our users want (even if we can pretend that we understand our user’s needs)?

How can we plan for uncertainty?

IMHO you can’t plan for uncertainty. You respond to uncertainty by inspecting and adapting. You learn by deliberately conducting many safe-fail experiments.

What is Safe-Fail Experimentation?

Safe-fail experimentation is a learning and problem solving technique which emphasizes on conducting many simultaneous, small, controlled experiments with small variations. Since these are small controlled experiments, failure is an expected & acceptable outcome.

In the software world, spiking, low-fi-prototypes, set-based design, continuous deploymentA/B Testing, etc. are all forms of safe-fail experiments.

Generally we like to start with something really small (but end-to-end) and rapidly build on it using user feedback and personal experience. Embracing Simplicity (“maximizing the amount of work not done”) is critical as well. You frequently cut small pieces, integrate the whole and see if its aligned with user’s needs. If not, the cost of rework is very small. Embrace small #SafeFail experiments to really innovate.

Or as Kerry says:

“Perhaps the fundamental point is that in software development the best way of measuring is to cut.”

Also strongly recommend you read the Basic principles of safe-fail experimentation.

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