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Option-Blind Smells

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Smell: Creating high-fidelity plans and designs up-front is the norm. Optional paths aren’t discussed other than when coming up with “the plan” or “the design.”

Refactoring Strategy: Education about the Nature of the Work and Option-Based Thinking. Institute incremental delivery to create some first-hand experience with optionality.

Component Smells

  1. Planning Obsession
  2. Hindsight Bias

Planning Obsession


  1. Breaking ground on complex work before thorough planning/design is frowned upon.
  2. The reaction to budget overruns and schedule slippage is that planning/design must have been insufficient or incompetent.


  1. Education about the nature of complex systems
  2. Education about Options-Based Thinking
  3. Deliver Incrementally

Although a few options might be considered during inception, because the approach is to pre-plot the path to the goal, new options are seldom considered after the effort is in flight. There is effectively only one option.

  1. Conditioning toward traditional project management methodologies.
  2. Lack of hands-on experience developing complex systems.
  3. Lack of exposure to or education in Complex Systems.

The kind of planning we’re talking about here is the kind that results in a traditional Gantt of PERT chart; who has to do what, what they depend on, how long each step will take—all strung together on a dependency-management graph of some sort. This is not to say that this kind of project management doesn’t have its place. It just that complex problems defy the kind of predictability upon which such plans depend. Belief otherwise is the primary cause of complex project “failure.”

Hindsight Bias


  1. People act as if they “should have been able to predict” the outcome of their decisions and actions because they are able to trace thier steps backward to see how they got to where they are.


  1. Education about the nature of complex systems
  2. Education about Options-Based Thinking

Leads to Planning Obsession.

Lack of exposure to or education in chaotic dynamic.

This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t reflect and learn from their mistakes, especially local (very short term) cause and effect. However, chaos and complexity generally prevent prediction in the medium to long run.