JFDI, or the illusion of fast delivery

Every now and then a change is issued as a JFDI.  Blanket exemption from everything, throw resources at it, just get it done.  (If you don’t know what JFDI stands for, ask someone old enough to vote).

In an organisation which has a good level of control over its change, JFDI is the exception.  In a badly run change organisation, JFDI is the norm.  In an organisation which is too rigid, nothing is ever done by JFDI.

Did I just say that no JFDI is a bad sign?  I did, and it can be. For two reasons.  First the less contentious JFDI learnings.

Organisations need to be cautious about doing change via JFDI routes because JFDI destroys value before it delivers anything.

As soon as you do something by a JFDI route, stampeding through process gates and ignoring boundaries of responsibility, you show that the organisation can ignore all those safeguards you’ve been putting in place with the assurance, training, communications, and best practice processes.  That’s a bad precedent to establish.

JFDI tramples on other people’s work.  If you aren’t on the JFDI train, don’t get in its way.  This discourages people from working on anything else, destroys teams already in place (by robbing resources), weakening committment, morale, and initiative, and harming the long-term retention of those thrown under said train.

JFDI ignores strategic considerations – in a software change organisation, it often ignores architecture and design patterns, testing best-practice and planning, stop-to-think time – whether it’s a good idea to continue or not; in a manufacturing organisation (where it’s very rare indeed) JFDI represents shipping a prototype without testing.  In some organisations it’s simply unthinkable.

The aftermath of a JFDI delivery can be wide and long.

Wide: across the organisation which has been afflicted, many projects will have been disrupted.  The cultural impact can also extend beyond the boundaries of those obviously involved – not just the team who delivered the JFDI change, nor even only those who were the recipients of the change, but also the supporting teams – the Finance team, the HR team, the trainers; the PMO or assurance teams; often the testers; IT support (both internal and for external customers).  The negative impact on individuals can, and often does, lead to staff turnover or at least burnout.

Long: change debt.  That whole class of things which are the consequence of having done things the fast way, rather than the right way – technical debt, architectural debt, training debt or process debt, organisational debt.  Technical debt and architectural debt often take years to recover from, and sometimes last the lifetime of the platform which has incurred them – with a knock on effect on many or all changes to that platform.  Training debt results in people being ill-equipped to support the change which has been rushed through, and that in turn demotivates people who are good, provides excuses for failure to all, and reduces the positive impact of whatever change was rushed through.  Process debt is like training debt, but represents the impact of not having designed the right processes in the first place, and no amount of training can fix this if the process people are learning is a bad process.  Organisational debt is a surprisingly common problem which goes unnoticed: when the organisational design has not been updated to allow for the changes which have been brought about, there are gaps in accountabilities and responsibilities – or these have been aligned to a group which doesn’t have a good, organic reason to care about the thing they’ve been given to look at.  I’ve seen an organisation which had absolutely no one accountable for shipping the product to the customer (it was a digital product, but there was still no one, and no organisational unit, which was held accountable for the customer getting the product – the IT department had taken care of it).  Changes cause creeping drift, and every now and then it’s important to realign design and reality (one way or another) and see there aren’t any gaps.

So JFDI comes at a price.

Sometimes organisations make the choice to sacrifice some of the good things that fall by the wayside during a JFDI delivery to achieve something of great value – a takeover (in either direction); hitting a particular deadline for a tremendous opportunity, or to avoid a hideous regulatory hurdle; the sort of disaster or emergency which, for instance, 9/11 represented, and what some organisations did in the aftermath of that.  If they do it conscious of the consequences, and with a recognition of the mess they’ll have to clear up afterwards, they can not only plan for that, but genuinely reduce the impact of these bad things – especially the ones which impact people.  Morale, commitment, initiative, the culture – these all rebound if they recognise that this JFDI thing is an exception, a response to something that happens only rarely, and not the normal way of doing things.

If organisations do JFDI delivery too often, the debts mount up calamitously, much like the stables of Augeas, and it is a labour of Herakles to clear it up.

But…

If there’s no ability to overturn the fences from time to time; if there’s never a situation where you throw caution to the wind and just go for it in a JFDI manner, the organisation you’re looking at may well be suffering from being too hidebound and too cautious.  That doesn’t bode well for the future, and for fending off competitors.  I know there are business domain exceptions – I do not want to be the first to fly on an airliner that’s never been tested, or even which runs software which was produced JFDI; other than in these business domains, the total lack of JFDI can even indicate that the organisation has reached the kind of steady state without change which is the last rattle of a business dying, peacefully, in its sleep.  While a business can rarely recover from this sleep of death, it is typically only with an injection of a very different senior leadership team, and that often comes at this point by aquisition.

And a total absence of JFDI can mean that the organisation has given into the illusion that it controls its market entirely, and can predict everything; and that is also dangerous.  It means that sticking to the plan is more important than pursuing an unexpected turn, which is an environment in which very little (if any) innovation can flourish.  It can happen to organisations at the very peak of their arrogance, and topples large and healthy organisations from their commanding position.

 

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