The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

Extending a True Epiphany

with 2 comments

In Agile Software Development with Scrum, Ken Schwaber describes a true epiphany he experienced as a result of his 1995 meetings with DuPont’s process control experts:

They [DuPont’s process control experts] inspected the system development processes that I brought them. I have rarely provided a group with so much laughter. They were amazed and appalled that my industry, system development, was trying to do its work using a completely inappropriate process control model. They said system development had so much complexity and unpredictability that it had to be managed by a process control model they referred to as “empirical.” They said it was nothing new, and all complex processes that were not completely understood required the empirical model…

… I realized why everyone in my industry had such problems building systems. I realized why the industry was in such trouble and had such poor reputation. We were wasting our time trying to control our work by thinking we had an assembly line when the only proper control was frequent and first-hand inspection, followed by immediate adjustments…

Based on this insight, I have since formulated with others the Scrum process for developing complex products, particularly software systems.

Fast forward to November 2009. During a lovely dinner in Boulder with Dean Leffingwell, we got into the subject of connecting Agile with ITIL. This conversation really registered with me. I actually recalled how years ago Ray Paquet characterized IT as a “continuous manufacturing” process. If you accept Ray’s premise, the chain {DuPont –> Scrum –> IT} is quite intriguing.

Re-reading Software Evolution recently, I was struck by the observation Tom Mens makes in the Introduction:

… due to the fact that the activity of software evolution is a continuous feedback process, the chosen process model itself is likely to be subject to evolution.

I can’t help wondering whether Tom’s observation applies to IT. If so, what are the implications with respect to IT operations and system management?!

Opinions please!

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2 Responses

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  1. Interesting. I wonder, though, if IT operations is somewhat further towards the ‘defined’ end of the spectrum than ’empirical’.

    I’ve yet to encounter an IT ops group that doesn’t have more work than they can handle, which speaks less to their process and more to the perennial problem of over-estimation of a group’s capacity. I believe this is a sweet spot for an approach like Kanban, which limits work in progress to demonstrated capacity.

    Marrying such an approach to ITIL then makes sense, but only once organizations get real about how much work they are capable of doing.

    Dave Rooney
    The Agile Consortium

    Dave Rooney

    January 6, 2010 at 7:03 am

  2. […] embracing Agile. The fundamental question to be answered is whether one considers ITIL as an “empirical” process control model or as a “defined” process control model (or possibly a hybrid). Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Between Agile and […]


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