Tag Archives: risk

The Unvexing

This post comes to you courtesy of Graham Lee at: http://www.sicpers.info/2016/11/the-vexing-problems-in-programming/ who reminded me about Value. We agilists (people who believe in agile software development) talk about value a lot but haven’t  agreed on a consistent definition of the word. As an illustration of two of the options:

“The value of this car is £9,500.” Is that to a seller or a buyer? Unless there is a difference, no trade will take place. Or is it a market rate? The long acquisition dance between Yahoo! and Google makes an interesting case study. This is: a value. A ‘fact’, right or wrong. It is the kind of thing developers in imperative programming languages put into variables and mutate but pure functional programmers squirrel away for ever, to embarrass themselves at their past Wrongness.

In contrast, “This car cost £9,500 pounds. I think that was quite good value but the model that costs £1,000 more is even better value.”, is a relative benefit:cost calculation, yet the manufacturer may market a ‘value’ model, which is just cheap. This is: a value judgement. An explicit or implicit comparison relative to something else, followed by a decision. It is a computation.

When Graham says, the most vexing problem of software product  developers is their inability to “compare the expected value of their work to the expected cost of the work.”, I think he means  ‘business benefit of their work’, and cost normally equates closely to development time. All the customer really wants to know is: “Is this the best investment I could make now?”

Graham goes on to say that we are very bad at estimating how long something will take. This is true but we are much better at estimating small jobs accurately than large ones.  Uncertainty increases exponentially with length of sequence of actions, to slightly corrupt Shannon’s Information Theory. This is why the Fibonacci sequence is often used as a sizing tool.

Agility accepts this reality. It addresses the list of things the customer currently wants, in highest benefit:cost ratio order (guessed by a business domain expert, based on guesses by an agile develooment team.) It doesn’t yet know whether the ‘whole job’ is worth doing. It decides only whether to risk the next small, cheap step and keeps doing that, as long as the ‘value’ is Good Enough. While value is high and risk is low enough, keep going.

A journey of any length starts with the first step, so why worry about whether or not it is going to be 1000 Miles? The hard part is to make it a journey, rather than simply wandering about, lost.

Then there are: our values. Our personal decisions about what matters most to us. Do we go home to read our children a bedtime story or work late and win that promotion so they have greater financial security in the future? What do we really care about and what are we willing to pay for it? This too is relative. Politics is the art of persuading you to modify your personal values. Currently, cheating is allowed.

Lost, in Another Dimension

“There are 2 types of people: those who believe the world can be divided into 2 types people and those who don’t”, say the ancient texts – and then there’s me.

Do you remember when politics used to be about Left and Right?
The https://www.politicalcompass.org/ taught us that there was another dimension, running from Authoritarian to Libertarian. These scales are non-binary.

My adventures in interwingularity have taught me that, for every way a data set can be divided, along an axis between 2 extremes, there may be another axis that you haven’t thought of yet.

I used to provide support of information systems to an energy trading floor. On a team-building  course I learned that trading floors are split into 2 types of people:

  • Traders, obviously, who have large appetites for the risk which brings highest profits and run on emotion and gut feel, lightly supported by a platform of market knowledge
  • Analysts, who are risk averse, cross-check everything from independent sources and always want more data before they make a decision

Any successful trading operation probably depends on the correct tension, and consequential personal stress, between these 2 groups of people and they drive one another crazy. In the middle is a regulatory department, making decisions about the analysts’ concerns about the traders’ latest wild scheme that may destroy the organisation. When not even ‘Regulatory’ can break a dead-lock, it has to go to executive level, for a final decision.

I can see no reason why a political party with a deep belief in market economical principles would be any different, ‘and so, to Brexit’: leaving the EU was dangerous but potentially highly lucrative for the Conservative Party’s key supporters. Party MPs are spread along the axis between safety and danger. The Brexiteers sold a dream but had no plan. The Remains’ plan was to do nothing, but lacked the marketing skills to make inaction sound attractive. They had lots of data, graphs even, on why Leave wouldn’t work but no-one planning to vote ‘Leave’ was inclined to listen. They’d bought the dream from the salesmen in the sharpest suits and scatter plots weren’t really their thing. The cautious, analytical half of the electorate heeded the warnings but they were still pushed off the cliff by the over-excited lemmings who didn’t give a damn what any ‘so-called experts’ thought. Those MPs with a natural tendency to regulate excesses and the executive who would normally have been limitting their ambition were on the team not risking The Really Dangerous Thing.

I now work as an Agile Business Analyst and I am currently available for hire.
I offer special rates for political parties. Market forces may apply.