in Agile, Business Design

The cost of iteration

Iterating on paper? Cheap.

Iterating in software? Still pretty cheap.

Iterating the Airbus A380? Not so cheap: “Airbus said Tuesday that it would produce only 9 of its giant new A380 jets next year, not the 25 planned, because of numerous design changes…. Small changes, like moving small pieces of equipment, were cascading through the system and creating the need for additional adjustments in wiring…

This simple idea, illustrated in painful penalties and time-to-market costs for Airbus, is elegantly expanded upon in Austin and Devin’s book Artful Making. The authors — one a business professor and the other a theater professor — contrast the cost of iteration with the cost of exploration, look at its use in industrial and knowledge work, and how the iteration cost curve changes over a project.

In general the book is a wonderful look at applying “artful” (i.e. design or craft) ways of working to knowledge work, which is what business design is in large part all about. I’ve been recommending it to everyone.

  1. It’s nice to get some perspective on this. Generally, we in the software/web business see the cost of revisions as pretty high, but when compared to those who build physical things, our work does tend to look pretty flexible doesn’t it?

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