Just about every agile video, book, and article I’ve ever consumed assumes some variant of the underlying team model shown below. The product these types of teams build is comprised of custom software running on off-the-shelf server hardware. Even though it’s not shown, they also assume a client-server structure, request-response protocol, database-centric system.
The team model for the types of systems I work on is given below. They are distributed real-time event systems comprised of embedded, heterogeneous, peer processors glued together via a pub-sub protocol. By necessity, specialized, multi-disciplinary teams are required to develop this category of systems. Also, by necessity, the content of the sprint backlog is more complex and intricately subtler than the typical agile IT product backlog of “features” and “user stories“.
When I watch/read/listen to smug agile process experts and coaches expound the virtues of their favorite methodology using narrow, anecdotal, personal stories from the database-centric IT world, I continuously ask myself “can this apply to the type of products I help build?“. Often, the answer is a skeptical “no“. Not always, but often.
“Efficient systems are dangerous to themselves and others” – John Gall
A new system is always established with the goal of outright solving, or at least mitigating, a newly perceived problem that can’t be addressed with an existing system. As long as the nature of the problem doesn’t change, continuously optimizing the system for increased efficiency also joyfully increases its effectiveness.
However, the universe being as it is, the nature of the problem is guaranteed to change and there comes a time where the joy starts morphing into sorrow. That’s because the more efficient a system becomes over time, the more rigid its structure and behavior becomes and the less open to change it becomes. And the more resistant to change it becomes, the more ineffective it becomes at achieving its original goal – which may no longer even be the right goal to strive for!
In the manic drive to make a system more efficient (so that more money can be made with less effort), it’s difficult to detect when the inevitable joy-to-sorrow inflection point manifests. Most managers, being cost-reduction obsessed, never see it coming – and never see that it has swooshed by. Instead of changing the structure and/or behavior of the system to fit the new reality, they continue to tweak the original structure and fine tune the existing behaviors of the system’s elements to minimize the delay from input to output. Then they are confounded when (if?) they detect the decreased effectiveness of their actions. D’oh! I hate when that happens.