Beyond Time-to-Market and Quality of Service: We're not used to think that way

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In agility transitions, or bimodal IT generally, time-to-market (TTM) and quality-of-service (QoS) are often treated as a dichotomy. On the traditional, transactional, conservatice, authoritarian, best-practice, right-Cynefin side everything is about enhancing QoS. On the left, agile, creative, socialist, anarchist, emergent side everything is about TTM, to learn quickly and get the product to survive in modern, fast-paced markets (sarcasm deliberate).

But what if, for a moment, one assumes that they are not dichotomous at all. They’re not a spectrum either, it has been argued that the transition between the two sides is more of fractal nature. So the “usual” mechanism to get to the next level would be: Make both terms orthogonal axes, and create another one of these neat four-quadrant pictures. So I did exactly that, as a thought experiment.

Afterwards, I tried to come up with known words or metaphors for things that fit in these quadrants.

This is the result:

It was pretty easy to come up with despicable terms for most of the four quadrants. Being a German native, I found a ton of German terms (the “short list” on paper is long!). Maybe that’s availability bias, maybe Germans are just good at destructive criticism. For all quadrants, except one. The most interesting one. The one that would be the target of any agile transition: I did not find ready metaphors for something that is delivered quickly, and has high quality at the same time.

Now, let’s stress availability bias again. If we do not readily find metaphors for these things, we’re not used to think in these terms. That, basically, means those things do not readily exist in our imagination. Some agilists recommended that the term “product increment”, “minimum viable product”, or “potentially shippable product” would belong there. But … sorry to say that … that’s lacking the required sex for any decent metaphor.

After a while of thinking, the term “Unit” came to mind, in the original sense of a new whole that emerges. Then again, Vygotsky already had to explain the term’s original meaning 100 years ago. It’s been sucked up by math and physics as a measure of countables long ago. At another place, I already argued for the introduction of a new term called “Unitial”, as the opposite operation of making differences, analogue the terms “integral”/“differential” from continuous math. But … language can hardly be dictated, and where it is, nothing good arises most of the time.

Thus I come to the conclusion, this is the place where we’re at right now. To transcend this, or to notice that agility really works, common terms and metaphors for things that are done fast and have high quality of service must become commonplace. Once those quadrants are filled and well-balanced, then we can work effectively on new post-bimodal challenges (and not swipe the conflict away by authoritarian doctrine that “today the only way is fast”, and hope our new saviour DevOps will distract from it).

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