Tales about Aviation, Coaching, Farming, Software Development

How to keep the demon of management at bay

It’s been countless times that I observe managers rush things and panic when the desired results don’t show up. It does not matter whether those managers are senior or junior but common seem to be that they share the view that faster is always better. When asked, most of them respond “the market requires us to become faster” and some others say “upper management expects us to become faster”. They are also driven to Agile or agile techniques based on the perception that the more agile their organization becomes, the faster everything can be achieved.

However, they respond with a strange look, when I start talking about discipline, about practicing, about mindful execution, and about adhering to self-defined rules - at least for a little while - amongst other things. They seem to think that I, as a representative of the agile coaching crowd, am sharing their desire for ever increasing speed. My feeling is that they get a bit disappointed once they find out that being agile to me means something different.

Going fast is not really part of the game plan

I wonder, does the Manifesto for Agile Software Development say anything about going faster and faster? The word fast does not show up anywhere in the wording. It does say responding to change over following a plan. It also expresses a preference for delivery of working software frequently. In fact working software is a term that is repeated several times.

The laws of physics cannot be altered

Vehicles come in different flavors. Some move on roads, others float on the water, and there are those that fly. They also differ by the speed they can reach. A good car can go as fast as 300 km/h. An airplane can even move at several times the speed of sound.

Some owners and drivers are obsessed with the maximum speed their vehicle can go and there are competitions to find out who has the fastest boat, car or airplane. That competition is a healthy thing in itself. It does drive innovation in several fields of engineering.

Despite all efforts to go faster one common thing defines a binding ruleset that cannot be altered or cheated. The laws of physics apply - like it or not!

A fast driving car will be driven out of a curve at some point. In fact when exactly that happens can be calculated precisely and there is no doubt that it will happen. Still, there are people who believe they know better and end up in a coffin.

The same goes for racing boats that at some point start surfing and eventually come out of the water, flip over and kill the driver on impact.

Airplanes can go very fast, but try to pull up at a speed too high for the maximum load the wings can take and the wings will break. Again, a person who tries to break the rules ends up in a coffin and then people will speak about a tragic accident.

The laws of physics do apply and cannot be altered by man. But man can come up with designs that allow higher performance within the limits of nature.

It is not that long ago that supersonic flight was deemed impossible and it was said there were a demon in the sky who will strike down anyone trying to break the sound barrier. Until 1947 when an American pilot named Chuck Yeager flew faster than the speed of sound. Behind that pilot stood a large number of aerospace engineers who made every possible effort to understand the laws of physics better and better and to test many different designs until eventually they succeeded. That effort required dedication, funding, discipline and knowledge about what happens to an aircraft wing and control surfaces at high speeds. It also required the capability to manufacture an aircraft to the quality standards required by the design of the engineers.

Success came to them due to perseverance.

Decisions based on data and discipline in execution

There cannot be an improvement of anything without data. How would you know what to improve or where to start. You do need to measure. You need to find a baseline, then measure again after doing something, then you compare before and after and finally you are in a position to evaluate the data.

In order to learn something meaningful that can guide your further efforts you need to perform your action with discipline. Do it with precision. Know what you are doing. Do only one thing and wait for doing another until you got the measurements.

I just said wait.

Waiting requires patience. Patience is not everybody’s favorite. But patience is discipline’s sibling. They are related and quite hard to separate from each other.

Value stream analysis to help the managers

When managers find themselves between a rock and a hard place, they need something to guide them. It is easier to be in a challenging situation knowing that the situation will improve in the foreseeable future. Without that guidance we humans are likely to experience either despair, resignation or panic.

A well implemented continuous value stream analysis can help. We can get baseline data and see the effects of any changes we make. Are the numbers improving, we do a bit more what just worked. Are the numbers getting worse, we stop and try something else. That should help to feel in control of the situation instead of giving us the demotivating feeling of helplessness.