Theory of Options and Theory of Constraints

Lunchtime discussions of the two theories above, what they actually mean, whether they’re meaningful and why the Titanic sank.

Here’s a quick summary of what I learnt, in a vague order:

  • There are two different types of system: one which iterates and responds to feedback, and one which anticipates the future based on the past, and ploughs ahead from there. Agile methods fall into the first category.
  • If you ask for a definition of agile methods, every person will give you a different answer, except for Chris, who will give you the right answer, and Ade, who will give you the same answer as Chris: “Agile is about delivering Business Value (with Software) through learning via continuous feedback.” (origin)
  • The theory of options suggests you shouldn’t exercise your options before you have to. It may say some other things which I haven’t learnt yet.
  • The theory of constraints is all about making systems efficient and avoiding bottlenecks. The example used was firefighting. If you have one member of a bucket chain who’s faster than everyone else, he’ll pass buckets as soon as he gets them. The result will be that the guy next to him ends up dropping buckets and spilling some of the water. The system becomes more efficient when you slow the down the speed-freak. Similarly, a system is efficient when the production line moves at the same speed all the way through, preferably producing single items at a time and avoiding batches. Batches occur when things pile up.
  • A certain British vehicle manufacturer produced too many vehicles, overestimating the demand. The vehicles piled up and the Brits ran into trouble. A certain Japanese vehicle manufacturer produces cars to customer specifications, and concentrates on reducing the time from order to delivery. Guess which one’s most Agile.
  • There are lots of reasons why the customer pull won’t work on some systems. Agile has come about because the future can’t be foreseen in software, so the iterative process takes over.
  • Did the Titanic sink because a) the Brits didn’t use enough CFCs in their deodorant, or b) because the hull wasn’t strong enough, or c) because they didn’t have a snazzy radar detector? While it’s true that using more CFCs in deodorant may indeed have melted the iceberg, it’s not the most efficient way of avoiding the accident in future. I reckon it’s due to a lack of communication betweeen the designer, who knew that the ship would sink if a certain number of compartments were breached, and the captain, who thought he was driving an unsinkable ship and drove it too fast, and was therefore unable to avoid the iceberg.
  • It’s important to respond to the right kind of feedback. For instance, sacking all the blondes in a company because the project with a blonde on it failed is not always useful.
  • They should have had a laser system for destroying icebergs on the front.
  • Kate Winslet is annoying.
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4 Responses to Theory of Options and Theory of Constraints

  1. kitty_goth says:

    [Figures I’d be the first person to comment on here, but there we go.]

    Have you seen the ‘Friendly Fire’ presentation from Harvard Business School, which discusses the shooting down of two Apaches in the No-Fly zone by two very experienced US pilots in near-perfect conditions?

    I’m not sure how much, if any, of their analysis is freely available, but if you can get hold of it, I highly recommend it. They don’t try to relate it directly to software projects but the general lessons are pretty sobering stuff.

  2. anonymous says:

    Hmm…Kate Winslet is annoying?? I assume this is your “female jealous of another female’s beauty” speaking. Kate Winslet…I was floored when I saw her in Titanic!
    -CG

  3. sirenian says:

    Hey, I said this was stuff I learnt… it hadn’t occurred to me before, but I’m assured it’s true.

  4. sirenian says:

    Cool, found a New Scientist precis here. I suspect you’ve already heard my opinion of blame cultures…

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