Who is driving?

I’ve seen discussions on the Web about who is and should be driving your project decisions.  Should you be totally business driven?  Maybe that’s starving your ability to address and correct technical debt?  Well, then, should you be technology driven?  I would say, “No.”  I’m working with a commercial product now that has navigation that makes perfect sense from a technical point of view, but is painful to use for typical end users.

So, who is driving?

I think a better question to ask is, “What is driving?”  What drives your decisions?  What drives the trade-offs you have to make when technical debt is robbing your velocity but the business needs more functionality?  Agile would answer with a resounding, “Business value!”  But we don’t always know how to define that well, especially when reducing technical debt can produce business value that’s hard to quantify, but new features produce clear value.

I think excellence has to drive.  I realize that sometimes it’s difficult to discern what will lead to excellence, but at least that has to be your goal.  And I mean excellence in all areas of the development team’s work. Excellence in maintainability, excellence in scalability, excellence in testability, excellence in final quality, excellence in compliance (where applicable), and excellence in customer satisfaction.  If excellence is driving, you will hit it, even if you occasionally make the wrong decision.  If you make technology or the business the drivers, you may paint yourself into a corner where excellence is impossible to achieve.

The only question remaining is who makes the call when the business owner thinks excellence is best served with new functionality and the technical team thinks technical changes are required.  I think you’re going to have to use the built-in retrospectives that Agile offers to see who has the best track record.  But if you’re targeting excellence, the retrospectives will help you achieve excellence.  In that case, both your business and technical leaders will, ultimately, be satisfied.

Strive for excellence and everything else will fall into place.

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