Flatten plan#

Should you attempt to flatten this graph:

* c: baz: G2
* b: bar: G1
* a

Into this graph?

* b: bar: G1
| * d: baz: G2
* a

Or attempt to flatten G1 into parallel tasks?

* g: merge: G1
| * f: tac
* | e: tic
* a


Maximize work not done#

See New to agile? INVEST in good user stories – Agile for All and Essential Scrum - Google Books. These resources make essentially the same point; when dependencies come into play it may not be possible to implement a valuable story without implementing other much less valuable stories.

From Principles behind the Agile Manifesto:

Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.


You can get stories done faster (in parallel) when they are more independent. Typically you need to do this when faster execution (on a team) is more important than efficiency. This is obviously less desirable than not doing the work at all.

Parallelization naturally creates one focus for a team (sprint goal), which leads to knowledge sharing and eases reviews. By parallelizing, you essentially created a sprint goal/theme in one space even if you previously didn’t have enough independent stories on one topic.


Regularly fails#

It’s often not possible to remove dependencies; this task may be impossible. Don’t force parallelization if you feel confident it will actually lead to slower than serial (i.e. single-person) execution.

Adds inflexiblity#

It can be expensive to flatten graphs when you are uncertain about how you will achieve a particular goal. For example, it’s often possible to have one developer “plan out” a solution (or even have the team plan it out in a meeting) and then have several individuals implement part of the solution. The plan (if everyone finished at the same time) would be to perform some kind of “octopus merge”:

*-. e: G
|\ \
| | * d
| * | c
| |/
* / b
* a

This approach is risky (and expensive) because it often requires the parties involved to negotiate an interface before they know the details of their implementations. See also Waterfall model.

Duplicates logic#

There’s a conflict between learning and producing results. If you want to learn (long-term investments), then your plans should include more helpful (rather than critical) dependencies. By doing so, you’ll end up focusing more on generally usually subgoals such as e.g. mathematical concepts that will ultimately reduce duplication across your mental networks (and notes).

If you want to get stuff done as quickly as possible, then you will generally prefer to strip dependencies (the relationships between subgoals). This is what often happens when you are trying to implement a feature in software; it’d be nice to generalize code but instead you choose to get it done the quick and easy way. Long term this can lead to technical debt if no one ever goes back to fix the unaddressed duplication.

It’s not necessary to understand every topic from all possible perspectives, however (e.g. both the Bayesian and Frequentist interpretations). You may actually be creating duplication when you write down or derive how to solve a problem in more than one way. If the method you are using works, don’t move on to a more complicated method until there’s a need.

Recording dependencies rather than throwing them away is valuable both for understanding all the possible ways you solve a problem (all the perspectives you could take, possible dependencies) and for understanding all the ways a concept is useful (dependents). See comments in the doubly-linked Maintain focus about recording newly-discovered dependencies.