Agility Isn’t For Everyone

29 04 2016

My post of less than 24 hours ago, The Only Legitimate Measure of Agility, has drawn some interesting comments.  (I mean real, face-to-face, vocal audio comments, not website or social media comments.)

For example, one fellow said to me, “What about a project to develop a new passenger jet?  What with all the safety concerns and government regulations and mountains of approvals such a thing has to go through, in addition to the fact that there’s no use putting a passenger jet into production before it can fly, means that you might not be able to release for ten years. However, you can still bring practices like TDD and demos and retrospectives to bear on such a project.  Your 1/w formula needs some kind of a scaling factor for projects like that.”

But no.

TDD and demos and retrospectives are practices, not agility.  Agility is frequently releasing to paying customers so as to get fast feedback to quickly fold back into the product and keep it relevant so that the money keeps rolling in–or to identify it rapidly as a bad idea and abandon it.

And you can’t do that with a passenger jet.  You can’t.  There’s no way.  Can’t be done. (…but see update below.)

There are plenty of projects in the industry today that could be made agile, either easily or with a bit of skull sweat, if the companies weren’t so huge and sluggish and shot through with enterprise corporate politics and perversity.  But the development of a new passenger jet isn’t one of them.

Therefore, the development of a new passenger jet can’t be agile.  (Or, to be more precise, if it takes ten years to develop, it can be at most 0.19% agile.)  That’s not a condemnation of the company or the business team or the developers; it’s a simple statement of fact.  If you want to be agile, then find (or start) a project that’s not developing a new passenger jet.

(Of course, once you have the jet, you might well be able to mount agile efforts to enhance and improve it.)

But while those practices aren’t the same as agility, they still bear talking about.  Where did those practices come from?  They came from agile teams who were desperately searching for ways to sustain their agility in the face of a high-volume cascade of production problems such as their waterfall predecessors never dreamed about.  They were invented and survived because they work.  They can produce fast, close-knit product teams who churn out high-quality, dependable code very quickly.

And any project, agile or not, can benefit from a product team like that.  Their practices are good practices, and (when used correctly) should be commended wherever they appear, and encouraged wherever they don’t.

Agility isn’t for everyone, but good practices are…or should be.


UPDATE: I just thought of a way the development of a new passenger jet might be agilified.

Manufacturers frequently (always?) accept orders for newly-designed airplanes years before they go into production, and such orders come with a significant amount of deposit money attached. This is real money from real customers.

Perhaps simulators could be devised, well before any aluminum was extruded from any furnaces anywhere, to demonstrate the anticipated experiences of the passengers and the crew and the mechanics and the support personnel and so on, such that the real code under development running in these simulators would give a reasonably faithful rendition of anticipated reality.

Releasing to these simulators, then, might qualify as releasing to a kind of production, since good experiences would lead to more orders with deposits, and changes to the simulated experiences would produce definite feedback from real customers with real money at real risk.  You could come up with a pretty tight feedback loop if you did something like that…and probably put a serious competitive hurtin’ on sluggish corporate government contractors like Boeing or Lockheed-Martin who will dismiss it as video-game nonsense.

Maybe a stupid thought, but…a thought, at least.





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