July 2009 Archives

Calling BS on fractal processes


Yesterday, I was browsing some of the mailing lists and bumped into some posts about "fractal processes." This wasn't the first time I heard about them, people talk about them in the context of Extreme Programming and Scrum and more modern methods such as Kanban all the time. I think its time to call BS on them.

What are they? A fractal process is sometimes used for the idea that the same process can be used on different levels of scale. So, for example, we do X on individual level, so we can do the same process on team level and the same on organizational level. The idea is really great. If a process is fractal then it would scale up to any size development by just repeating itself on a higher scale. BS!

Any process/method/practice exists with a certain goal and to solve certain problems. So therefore, a fractal process seems to assume that the same goals and the same problems exists also in fractals. This is not my experience. Different levels will have a different context and different problems to solve. Therefore taking a solution that worked on a smaller scale and "fractaling" it up, does not work as the problems to solve at a larger scale are different. Thus, it does not work.

Principles are slightly different, but harder to apply. If I got a problem on a small scale and I use a principle--such as lean thinking principles--to solve the problem, then that principle will scale. If I got a different context, a larger scale problem then I can use the same principle for solving that problem. If I do so, I'm likely to get a different solution (not a fractalized version of the small-scale problem).

Perhaps it can just be summarized as the old "when you only have a hammer, all you see is nails" or however the saying goes :)

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