October 18, 2010
Agile methods are best suited for small projects. Women are not suited for extreme endurance events like marathons and ultra (beyond marathon) races. Oh, how conventional wisdom seems ludicrous after being proven wrong time and time again.
“The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next.” - Helen Keller
I have been doing more trail running this year, and some ultras. It is great to see the sport is not male dominated and many events are won outright by women. Before the 1980s, there were no women's distance races in the Olympics at all; 1,500m was the furthest race distance allowed for them. Before 1972, women were barred from the Boston marathon and most other marathons.
Pam Reed beat all the men in the Badwater 135-miler two years in a row. Local girl Ellie Greenwood, often beats all the guys in her ultra races. Scientists believe women may metabolize fat more efficiently than men for better fuelling and that estrogen may delay mental weariness. I just know there are lots of ponytails passing me on the trails, and am good with that.
As women go from being thought of as too frail to run marathons to kicking major butt in ultra marathons, so too do agile methods. First described as “light weight” and only for small, co-located teams, we are now seeing more and more use of agile methods in truly huge, distributed, complex projects.
At last year’s Agile Business Conference in London I learned about Nokia’s massive agile roll-out where 1,800 software developers are using agile techniques to develop the Symbian mobile phone platform. This immensely complex endeavour is tightly coupled to quickly evolving hardware, divergent phone standards, and a variety of different cell providers worldwide. Using a variant of Dean Leffingwell’s “Agile Train” approach they are scaling agile to tackle a very complex domain and produce rapid, high quality results.
At this year’s PMI Global Congress last week Richard Spires CIO of the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) spoke about his role overseeing $6.5 billion of IT focussed spend annually. He has 91 projects greater $50M in his portfolio. So, how does he and his team manage it all? “With more and more adoption of agile methods” he said. It is the only way to keep up with the complexity and high rates of change required for this massive portfolio of projects.
Agile started small, and this is still my recommendation for companies looking to adopt it, but do not limit its application or growth there. Command and control structures get heavy and slow to change as they scale up. The weight of the control system seems to over burden the operation of the functions. Perhaps the lighter weight of agile methods can actually be an asset to solving truly huge projects by not smothering operations as they expand?
I think we will be seeing more accounts of ultra sized agile projects in the future.