Enterprise Agility Tips from “Waltzing with Bears”

I admit to coming pretty late to DeMarco and Lister’s interesting (2003) book on risk management in software projects entitled “Waltzing with Bears“. While the book wasn’t written as a text on agile software development practices and not all of its recommendations are strictly agile, I found that it offers an interesting, mature and professional perspective on enterprise-scale software development risk management, and of course to me that implies risk management through agile practices. The chapter on the Denver airport baggage system alone was worth the price of admission (especially for those of us who live in Colorado and lived through those frustrations in the headlines every day.) Lesson learned therein: If you have to achieve something on the critical path and the cost of failure is beyond imagination, then you need a backup plan! (in other words, a design continuum with at least two points on the spectrum – “best case” and “what if?”)

I also found the grabber in the prologue particular compelling as it reminded me of my life as a project manager back in my waterfall days. This little vignette is derived from Through the Looking Glass as the Queen responds to Alice’s protests that “one cannot believe impossible things.”

“Why, when I was your age, sometimes I’ve believed in six impossible things before breakfast”
– The Queen

“There is probably no job on earth for which an ability to believe six impossible things before breakfast is more of a requirement than Software Project Management”
– DeMarco and Lister

That does kind of hit the nail on the head, does it not?

The book is a great read for anyone with the responsibility to help manage risk in a software project. And with our agile practice of pushing the decisions and the responsibilities to the team who actually implements the system, who isn’t?


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