Don’t Plan, Speculate

This content is syndicated from Jim Highsmith by Jim Highsmith. To view the original post in full, click here.

One thing people are learning is that you can’t plan uncertainty away. Plans are good for things we know, or things that we may have some control over. However uncertainty—and its close cousin’s ambiguity and velocity—defy planning. When I originally introduced my Adaptive Life Cycle in Adaptive Software Development, the three high-level phases were Speculate, Collaborate, and Learn. I expanded on these in Agile Project Management to be Envision, Speculate, Explore, Adapt, and Close. In either case, Speculate takes center stage. Planning says, “I know something and this is how it’s going to be.” Speculate says, “Here is my hypothesis about the future, let’s explore.” Some of my thoughts on Speculation in Adaptive Software Development were:
  • In a complex environment, following a plan produces the product you intended, just not the product you need.
  • In a traditional approach deviations from plans are mistakes that must be corrected. In an adaptive approach deviations guide us towards the correct solutions.
  • When we speculate, we define a mission to the best of our ability, but our choice of words indicates that we are more than likely wrong.
The word “speculate” first calls to mind the image of reckless risk-taking, but actually the dictionary definition is “to conjecture something based on incomplete facts or information.” I must admit that some of my early banking clients had a hard time using a development phase named Speculate, but somehow we need to change the tenor of discussions around what is traditionally known as planning. Planning is too deterministic a word, in conjures up a mindset of fixed time frames and detailed activities. Speculate says, “Within our product visions, let’s develop a hypothesis about the future and then test it in short iterations with our customers.” In Experimentation Matters: Unlocking the Potential of New Technologies, author Stefan Thomke focuses on the need for experimentation as a driver for innovation, “Experimentation matters because it is through learning equally what works and what doesn’t that people develop great new products, services, and entire businesses. But in spite of the lip service that is paid to “testing” and “learning from failure,” today’s organizations, processes, and management of innovation often impede experimentation.” As the last sentence warns, while many managers talk about learning, their organizational systems impede that learning. We need to stop planning and begin speculating, hypothesizing, and experimenting. I was slow to convert to using the term Story for iteration planning. What finally convinced me was the need to change people’s perception. The traditional word we used was requirement or requirement document—a word that again conjures up fixed, unvarying, cast-in-concrete. Story on the other hand conjured up a different scenario, one which emphasized talking over writing and evolution over a fixed thing. Speculating rather than planning has a similar effect. When we speculate we are not prescribing the future, we are hypothesizing about it. And, to those who practice the scientific method, when we hypothesize we then need to run experiments to test it—exactly what happens in Agile iterations. Speculating also conjures up a vision of a group musing about the future instead of one rushing to document in detail. Words make a difference; they convey a nuance about how to conduct ourselves. So I’ll make another pitch for elevating Speculating, and demoting Planning.

Leave a Reply

What is 10 + 10 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
Please do this simple sum so I know you are human:)

There are 101 ways to approach anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”


“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”


“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”


“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”


“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”


“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”


“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”


“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”


“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”


“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”


“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”