Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Agility and Variation

There are several strands of agile development and quality management that are concerned with reducing (some measure of) variation in order to maximize (some measure of) performance and (some measure of) quality. Much of this thinking is derived from the quality guru W. Edwards Deming.

David J. Anderson, a follower of Goldratt's Theory of Constraints (TOC), has been discussing this recently in his Agile Management Weblog (links don't always work).
So I was interested to read Anderson's account of a Sushi Lunch, where he complained about the inflexible and unresponsive service provided in a top Japanese restaurant, and the dissatisfaction experienced especially by a junior member of the Anderson family. Anderson senior interprets this in terms of the Theory of Constraints:

This restaurant had a broken organizational structure and poor separation of responsibilities. The "Anderson lunch project" should rightly have been the responsibility of the waiter who should have been playing the project manager role (and maybe the program manager role). The waiter should have analyzed our requirements and understood our priorities. This should have been communicated to the chefs and the order of production of our sushi should have been negotiated against the competing orders at the time. The sushi chefs should have been purely responsible for the production of sushi. They should not have had any project management, program management or scheduling responsibility.

But I don't think this tells the whole story. It seems to me that the restaurant was unable and/or unwilling to accommodate the demand variation caused by the Anderson toddler. A supply-side optimization led directly to a poor demand-side experience, and indirectly to a supply-side disruption.

Traditional operational managers often believe their primary task is to achieve supply-side productivity by reducing variation. This view of the primary task encourages them to suppress demand-side variation, and to ignore demand-side signals that would complicate or contradict this view of the primary task.

What are the implications of this for service-oriented architectures? We now have technologies that support greater flexibility in managing demand-side variation in relation to supply-side variation. From a business point of view, this is one of the main benefits of SOA technologies.

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