What do you do when someone else’s evidence and your logic collide? You might:

  • Use ad hominem “logic” to cast aspersions on the someone else.
  • Not waste time bothering with ad hominem logic – just deny the other side’s evidence.
  • Create a strawman version of what you’re trying to refute – something that resembles it, only with a few fatal flaws added to let you “prove” it can’t work.
  • Embrace your confirmation bias. Find someone on the internet … anyone on the internet … who asserts evidence supporting whatever position you like best. Cite them as the only authority worth paying attention to.
  • Redefine the criteria for being right.
  • Find a historical case of a scientist whose colleagues ridiculed their theories, only to be vindicated in the end. Claim they’re your ideological brethren. Whether the historical scientist was actually subjected to ridicule or not doesn’t matter.
  • Or, reverse the last stratagem: Find a theory that was popular once upon a time, only to ultimately be proven wrong. Those who disagree with you would have agreed with it.

Which brings us to the sad, sad case of why Waterfall methodologies persist.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a Waterfall methodology is one that designs a project plan in terms of a linear progression. For application development these would typically start with a feasibility study, followed by requirements definition, specifications, coding, testing, training, and deployment.

With Waterfall methodologies, design has to be complete before development can begin, and if anything has been left out, or a design assumption has changed (as in, “Oh, you wanted wings on that airplane?”) whoever is championing the change goes through a change control process, which includes the project manager rippling the change through the entire project plan.

Agile, in contrast, is a family of methodologies, not a methodology. What its variants have in common is that they build software iteratively and incrementally. The list of Things the Application is Supposed to Do is called the backlog.

Projects still start with some form of feasibility study, one of whose work products is the initial backlog; another is defining the “minimum viable product” – the irreducible core of the planned application that everything else hooks onto.

From that point forward there is a process for deciding which items in the backlog have the highest priority. As for anything left out of the backlog or a change in design assumptions, these are pushed into the backlog where they are subjected to the same priority-setting process as everything else.

This will do as a barebones sketch. If you want more, please refer to chapter 3 of There’s no such thing as an IT project, Fixing Agile.

The best available evidence, from the widely respected Standish Group, reports that Agile projects are fully successful at nearly twice the rate as Waterfall projects, which fail completely about two and a half times as often as their Agile counterparts.

Case closed? If only.

Some Waterfall proponents counter with one or more of the denial strategies that started this article. For example a popular strawman is that Agile can’t work because in order to optimize the whole you have to suboptimize the parts, which supposedly can’t happen because in Agile, each developer does whatever he or she wants to build a capability that accretes onto the accumulating application.

This is a strawman. Agile projects build to a well-defined architecture, to user-interface standards, and to an overall coherent plan: Anything added to the backlog has to be consistent with the rest of the backlog.

Meanwhile, the implication is that in Waterfall projects, designers can optimize the whole. This assertion is, in a way, accurate. Designers can optimize the whole, so long as the target “the whole” is shooting at doesn’t change over the life of the project.

Good luck with that. The specifics of what a business needs to succeed within a given application’s domain change all the time.

So by the time a Waterfall-developed application is done, the criteria for “done” have changed.

Bob’s last word: The specifics of what a business needs to succeed within a given application’s domain changes all the time in successful businesses. Leaders of successful businesses know that their success depends on continuous adaptation to changing circumstances.

Success, that is, depends on agility.

Bob’s sales pitch: “To optimize the whole you must sub-optimize the parts” is a well-recognized principle here in KJR-land. If you’d like some guidance on how to apply it to your own real-world situations, you’ll find it in chapter 2 of Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology, which explores this concept in depth.

When you buy your next smartphone, what features will you compare to make your decision?

So far as I can tell, the dominant contrasts appear to lie in their cameras – cutting edge smartphones have, in addition to their main camera, ones for wide-angle, telephoto, and front-facing (selfie-mode).

Add to that a bunch of different image manipulation features and you have a complex comparison.

Next question: When you buy your next point-and-shoot camera, what features will you compare to make your decision?

Answer: Most likely you won’t buy your next point-and-shoot camera. You’ll upgrade your smartphone instead, and for higher-end photography you’ll buy a DSLR.

As a category, point-and-shoot cameras are, along with Monty Python’s famous Norwegian blue parrot, on the way to joining the choir invisible. Steadily-improving smartphone cameras are rapidly extinguishing them, just as steadily-improving digital cameras extinguished those that use film.

Which will get us to this week’s topic in a moment, right after we ask ourselves whether better product management on Nikon, Canon, or Olympus’s part might have staved off this category calamity.

The answer: Probably not. Product management is an in-category discipline, which is why Canon’s product line dominates the DSLR marketplace but doesn’t provide OEM componentry for any smartphone. More broadly, it’s why the major camera companies didn’t add telephone-oriented features to their point-and-shoot cameras.

Which (finally!) brings us to this week’s topic: Whether IT should organize according to software product management principles rather than software project principles (see, for example, this lucid explanation on martin.Fowler.com).

The answer? No, but IT shouldn’t continue to organize around software projects, either. As all enlightened members of the KJR community (if you’ll forgive the redundancy) know, there’s no such thing as an IT project. It’s always around business change or what’s the point?

Organizing IT around IT products is certainly better than organizing it around IT projects … product-mode thinking does expressly incorporate business improvement into its planning and governance practices, more easily incorporates agile thinking into the mix, and solves the problem of maintaining a stockpile of expertise instead of disbanding it once the initial implementation project has completed.

On the other hand, most agile variants keep teams in place until the backlog has shrunk beyond the point of diminishing returns, so this last “benefit” is something of a strawman.

Meanwhile, the product perspective brings with it a potentially crippling disadvantage – the inevitability of internal competition. Here’s how it works:

Imagine you’re the product manager for your company’s in-house-developed, highly optimized, strongly supported SCM (supply chain management) system. You and your team have deep expertise in its workings, which lets you respond quickly and efficiently when business needs change or new needs arise.

Meanwhile, as a result of several mergers and acquisitions, three other business units also have SCM systems and supporting teams, each with capabilities roughly comparable to what your team brings to the table.

And so, the CIO and IT planning committee decide it’s time to rationalize the applications portfolio, building out the architecture to a hub-and-spoke model anchored by Oracle ERP Cloud (this is, understand, just a ferinstance, not an endorsement).

Suddenly, your team’s expertise is irrelevant. And so, being savvy at the game of corporate politics, you invite the head of your business unit’s supply chain function to join you for conversational lubricants, in which conversation you explain the disadvantages of forcing his team to use a software vendor’s plain-vanilla SCM module instead of the finely-tuned application they’re used to.

Describing how this scenario plays out is left as an exercise for the reader. Suffice it to say, it wouldn’t be pretty.

Bob’s last word: More problematic than everything else, the product perspective leaves in place defining IT’s relationship with the rest of the business as a vendor dealing with internal customers. This is a bad idea, something I’ve been explaining since1996.

IT should be organized to support business optimization, where each business function defines optimization according to what it will take for it to run differently and better, and the company defines IT’s relationship with the rest of the business as partner and collaborator in delivering profitable value to Real Paying Customers.

Bob’s sales pitch: Not the first time I’ve mentioned this, and it won’t be the last – you’ll find an in-depth explanation of how to make this work in There’s no such thing as an IT Project: A handbook for intentional business change. And it isn’t just in-depth coverage of content that matters. Dave and I took pains to make sure it’s readable, too.