Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Scopeless contacts: the problem

I’ve discussed Agile contract models before and I’ve agued against points based contracts (‘Points based contracts? Just say No’) but the more I think about client-supplier software development contracts the more I think including any scope in the contract is asking for trouble.

Before I explain let me say: Yes I know this isn’t going to be possible either with your clients or your own sales folk, I’ll follow up this blog entry with another setting out what you should sell instead.

Now I’m using the word scope, although I hate the word it is the word most people recognise. I mean: “the work which will be done.” Call it a requirements document, a PRD, a product backlog or anything else. Its a shopping list of things you think you want.

Right now, here is why I think fixing scope inside a contract is a bad idea:

Scope is always unknown: you may think you know it but you don’t because things change, learning occurs (on all sides), when someone see something they change their mind about what it is they want, or what they ask for, or what they want next.

I’ve been over this ground again and again, first in Why Do Requirements Change (2004), again in Changing Software Development (2008) and more recently in Dear Customer (2012).

And the bigger your project is the more your requirements will change and grow. Capers Jones gives the industry average as 2% per calendar month for large projects. If you’ve got a project/programme that is up and running you can go and measure it yourself. One team I know saw their product backlog increase by 50% between January and July.

Someone said to me recently: “Surely the team has got better at this now, they’ve learnt.” Well yes, they will have got better, that might take the edge off, might rule out some human factors but the world hasn’t stopped.

The World is Changing: lets suppose for a moment you are running a big project, say its been running 2 years and you think it has another 2 years to run. Cast your mind back 2 years, what was the world like in July 2010 ?

First some context: David Cameron has been British Prime Minister for 2 months, Osama bin Laden was alive and well, few people outside Japan had heard of Fukushima, Deepwater Horizon had just been capped and oil was under $50 a barrel.

  • The first generation iPad had been on sale for 3 months, it was far from obvious that Apps were about to take over the world
  • Nokia were still pushing Symbian phones and were still the biggest mobile phone seller and Android was in version 2.2 (Froyo)
  • JP Morgan was fined £33m for failing to protect client money
  • Greek debt was downgraded to junk in April
  • Barclays were fixing Libor
Go back a little further: Windows 7 was release in October 2009. Further still: the iPhone was released in June 2007 and the AppStore in July 2008. Not that long ago.

Did any of those events effect your business?

Did any of those events, or countless others I haven’t mentioned effect what your business wanted?

Now ask yourself: what could happen in the next two years, to 2014, that would change what your business, your customers want?

President Romney? Grexit? Finexit?

Scope should reduce as well as increase: when you fix scope you also make it difficult for scope to reduce. Requirements should be reducing as much as increasing.

Marty Cagan recently blogged about “The Opportunity Backlog”. Your backlog is not a list of things that will be done, it is a list of things which could be done, and you should do as little of it as possible (its expensive), instead focus on the opportunities which deliver the most.

You human, you make mistakes: well maybe not you personally but the people who work for you.

There are mistakes in what you ask for, mistakes in what you build and mistakes in how people use it. Sometimes fixing a mistake is more important than doing something new.

Second system effect: there is a blog entry waiting to be written about version 2 projects, for now lets stick with what Fred Brooks said in 1975: “The second is the most dangerous system a man ever designs. ... The general tendency is to over-design the second system, using all the ideas and frills that were cautiously side-tracked on the first one.”

Whether you are designing from a technical, user or business perspective you suffer from second system effect.

OK, am making my point?

Since requirements can and will change there is not point in writing them into a contract.

This point is doubly dangerous if you attached estimates and timelines to the contract because you will be wrong again. Human’s Can’t Estimate.

This is bad for the supplier who will sooner or later have to explain what is going on to the customer and its bad for customers who don’t get systems that work.

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