Re: No Hard Deadline?
RE: Chris Murphy "I'm wondering how companies can manage their business planning without a hard deadline for completion. When I hear of companies building custom software, it's often because there's some really pressing need or ripe opportunity -- meeting a competitor's app offering, or a looming cost savings."
Emphasis above is mine, I highlighted those two word for a reason:
It's hard to plan for ripe opportunity. That's the rub.
Planning happens for the to-do list: we need x on y date to make sure z ships on time.
Opportunity realization happens for items on the wish-list: woah, wouldn't it be great if x could influence y?
Often, the wish-list vs. to-do list is a dichotomy we draw for clients. Succinctly, fresh tech/process automation/"invention"/innovation servicing is more condusive to the wish-list. And buyers in that mindset don't have deadlines as a top priority.
RE: "How do you manage business unit expectations in that case? "
Once we're engaged with a philisophically aligned client, we manage expectations by showing them cool stuff early and often. We share the knowledge we pull out of our observations and hacking, and we quickly lay out prototypes/concepts/sketches (six weeks or less).
Yes, it's Agile, but technological transformation is much more than code slanging.