Mar 21

Risk, Uncertainty and Doubt

In a great post, Jean Tabaka talks about Risk, Uncertainty and Doubt. I wanted to lay out some specifics with regards to Agile development’s ability to manage RUD.


There are lots of ways to manage risk. Waltzing with Bears is a great place to start, agile project or no. One of my favorite risk-mitigation techniques is to create a Risk Census, a Risk Forecast and a Risk Burndown chart, and integrate those into the overall project schedule. These help

  • Tell us which risks have the highest impact.
  • Tell us what the expected overall hit to the project will be from risk (within reason)
  • Help us visually see our risks decrease over time

I’ll write more on risks later.


Spikes in XP, or rapid prototypes as stories in early iterations are ways to manage uncertainty. We (my company) have that right now in a current project, with uncertainty about how to implement a key feature. So I have advocated that we make “proving out” that capability a key story/task for the upcoming iteration.

Doubt is probably more appropriately called analysis paralysis. Because there is no good option, people refuse to make a decision, preferring to hope that a good option will come around. One of the key ways to manage doubt is simple leadership – someone who simply says “this may suck, but it sucks less than the other options and we have a schedule to keep”. In agile, this is represented to a significant degree by the time pressure inherent in Iterative development. You can’t afford to “hope” for very long that a better decision will come, so I think that it can force the issue in ways that longer-cycle development does not.

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