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Agile BT Rants

Agile in the enterprise: don’t try to steer the supertanker

When people talk about large organisations making major changes to their core processes or values, sooner or later someone will compare the process to steering a supertanker – if you turn the wheel now, you’ll have travelled quite a distance before there’s any noticable change in course.

This analogy falls down when you’re trying to introduce agile software development. If you want to be agile, a supertanker just won’t do the job any more. It’s time for small teams to jump into the lifeboats and set off in their own directions, leaving the heavy old legacy systems to continue their progress on their predictable course. The lifeboats are far nimbler and can react much quicker to changing conditions. Of course (and that sound you hear is the analogy stretching close to breaking point) they would still be in radio contact with the captain, so you wouldn’t lose sight of the overall strategy.

Personally, the lifeboat I was in until Christmas now has a new crew and is sailing under a flag of convenience out of Mumbai. I have no idea what I’ll be doing in the new year, or whether we’ll remain as a team, but at the moment it feels very much like we’re being dumped back on the supertanker, and while we’ve been off charting new territories, the ship’s only turned by a degree or two.

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3 replies on “Agile in the enterprise: don’t try to steer the supertanker”

You said: “Personally, the lifeboat I was in until Christmas now has a new crew and is sailing under a flag of convenience out of Mumbai.” Many others too I guess. How does agile work in an offshore context?

How does agile work in an offshore context?

My gut feeling is that the best chance of making it work (assuming you’re talking about outsourcing to a separate company, rather than a distributed team within an organisation) is to offshore a project completely, leaving the client organisation to purely take the role of customer. If you start hanging on to the project management (or worse, the system design) it tends to reduce the agility of the overall team.

It’s not something I have all that much experience of though. For the opinions of someone who actually knows what he’s talking about, have a look at Martin Fowler’s article on the subject.

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