Sunday, October 11, 2009

Agile vs. Waterfall: The NetFlix analogy

The following is a fable to compare traditional waterfall projects to agile/lean projects...

Announcing my new movie rental service, NetPix! Here's how it works.
  • You get 60 movies each year, delivered on DVD in the mail.
  • When you first sign up, choose 60 movies you want. When you finish choosing your movies, we'll confirm that it's really the list you want.
  • Over the next 12 months, NetPix will tirelessly collect your 60 DVDs, and at the end of the year, we'll deliver all 60 movies to your home!
  • Price: $60 per year (just $5 per month!)
The fine print:
  • DVDs will be delivered 12 months after you complete and confirm your list of 60 movies. 
  • After confirming your movie list, any changes you make to the list in the first 6 months will incur a charge of $2 per movie. 
  • Any changes in your movie list during months 7-12 will result in a charge of $3 per movie, and a delivery delay of 1 month per movie changed. (We have to lock down the list at some time, after all!)

Now suppose I order, say "Weekend at Bernie's", both I and II, on the advice of my high school buddy, Steve. A year later, I watch "Weekend at Bernie's" (the first one), and I hate it! Steve usually has good taste, so I trusted him, but he must have been smoking crack when he recommended this one. I don't even wanna watch "Weekend at Bernie's 2", but I already paid for it and it's sitting in a cardboard box next to my DVD player. Damn!

And to top it off, eight months into the year the studio released a remastered, Director's cut, collector's edition of my all-time favorite movie "Blazing Saddles", with never-before-seen outtakes! If I want that it'll cost me an extra $3 (5% more) and I'll have to wait an extra month for all of my DVDs! Double damn!

Would you buy this? "No," you say? Well why not? This is the way software customers have been buying software for decades! Customers have to figure out everything we want before we even start working on it, and they can't change their minds later without paying dearly for it!

Alas, much to the chagrin of NetPix, along comes an upstart disruptor, NetFlix! Now customers can get the features (DVDs) they want every month instead of waiting a year! And they can change their priorities (movie list) at any time! And they can watch "Weekend at Bernie's I" before deciding if they want to invest 90 irrecoverable minutes of their lives watching the sequal. The demise of NetPix is written on the wall!