Defining the Last Responsible Moment

I was involved in a recent twitter discussion with Chris Matts about Lean’s “Last Responsible Moment”, and he set a challenge to come up with a usable definition. Chris’s opinion is that there isn’t one, compared to the Real Options equivalent. This then, is my response to that challenge.

I will define the Last Responsible Moment (LRM) in terms of Cost of Delay, as used by Don Reinertsen, and Benefit of Delay, a related term that came up in an email conversation with Julian Everett. In short, the Last Responsible Moment is just before the Cost of Delay outweighs the Benefit of Delay. Its not necessary to be able to quantify the costs and benefits very accurately because any evaluation is going to be better than none!

In his challenge, Chris used the example of knowing the Last Responsible moment to submit a session for Agile2010. I’ll use that example to explain my definition.

Firstly, the Cost of Delay for submitting to Agile2010 goes up at the submission deadline, because when you can no longer submit, can can no longer get accepted, and thus can no longer receive speaker benefits including conference registration, complimentary hotel nights. However, that does not make the submission deadline the LRM, because there is no benefit in delaying submission due to the open commenting and review process. Thus the LRM is actually as soon as the submission system opens. From then on, submitters are losing the opportunity to improve their submission.

What would happen if the Agile2010 submission process wasn’t as open or iterative? In that case, then there would be benefit in delaying, because it would allow more time to refine a submission before entering it. The Benefit of Delay would drop off just before the deadline, however, so the LRM would be then.

A third scenario, as suggested by Chris, is that a speaker might have something so important and valuable to say, that the Benefit of Delay doesn’t actually drop off at the submission deadline. There may be a Benefit right up to the conference itself because a speaker can turn up with a Soap Box, or propose a session for Open Space. The Cost of Delay remains the same, due to the loss of speaker compensation, but the Benefit might always outweighs the Cost.

Finally, in this scenario, a speaker might choose to register for the conference early anyway to take advantage of any early bird deals, and book flights and hotels early to get good prices. This would reduce the Cost of Delay, and thus potentially reduce the Benefit needed to make it worthwhile not requiring an official speaking slot on the program.

To summarise, understanding both the Cost of Delay and Benefit of Delay can be a practical way of defining the Last Responsible Moment. Real Options thinking provides ways of influencing the Costs and Benefits of Delays to gain some flexibility.

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