Gunfighting and IT Service Delivery

eastwoodI’ve been a sport shooting enthusiast for about 15 years. In that time, I’ve found the most difficult skill to master is speed vs. accuracy. In a fight for one’s life, this skill becomes vital – hitting the right target before you exhaust your ammunition. This same balance applies to IT service delivery.

In my consulting work, I’ve observed clients who have only one speed. Some clients can only deliver quickly, others slowly. Both extremes are dangerous. Whichever speed it is, it will only be optimal for a narrow range of projects. Learning to adapt and adjust speed is critical for success – that is, hitting the right target at the right speed.

How do we know how fast to go?

Back to my gunfighting analogy – as the distance to your target increases, so do your chances of missing. Counterintuitively, sometimes you have to speed up to gain accuracy, closing the distance to your target.

What does this have to do with IT service delivery?

Glad you asked. I’ve had clients work at both speed extremes. Too quickly, and requirements are missed, bugs abound, and expensive rework is incurred. As a result, important features get dropped to make a delivery date, or worse, dates are missed. Too slowly, and (obviously) dates are missed, but more importantly, competitors can leapfrog you.

But you just said to speed up to gain accuracy. Mark, you’re pulling my leg!

Nope. I promise. What I mean by “speed” here is not necessarily how quickly you can deliver, but how frequently you can deliver.

Frequency, by way of iteration, allows us to deliver just the right solution at the right time, and no more. Delivering with shorter iterations reduces the distance to our target, and allows us to quickly adapt based on customer demand, market forces, or to take advantage of new technologies. Iterating also allows us to minimize the amount of waste produced by rework.

Mark, how fast can I go?

I don’t know. You don’t know. But we can find out. After adopting some agile practices, we can measure our velocity – the amount of value we can deliver per iteration.

If you’re anything like my clients, you’ll be surprised to learn how much faster and straighter you can shoot.