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Customer expectations are bringing uncertainty to your doorstep – an infographic

By Agile, Customers, TechnologyOne Comment

Eric Ries defines a startup as:

A human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

So what does ‘extreme uncertainty’ look like?

Po Bronson coined the phrase ‘radical uncertainty’ 13 years ago in The Nudist on the Late Shift, the book that got me so excited about San Francisco’s dot-com era I left a perfectly good career in Australian corporate IT to chase the dream of startups in America. And those conditions of uncertainty are what led me directly to the agile way of working (thanks Kent Beck), as the only way to cope with business models, shareholder requirements, and customer needs changing on a weekly basis.

Here’s some of the consumer expectations that are driving that kind of uncertainty today, in a brilliant infographic from the team at onlinegraduate programs.com. Grab your iPad, a stop-watch, and possibly a glass of whisky, and head to your own website immediately after reading. You have 4 seconds or less…

Instant America
Created by: Online Graduate Programs

They love feedback down at onlinegraduateprograms.com so drop Tony Shin a note with any feedback using Twitter dm @ohtinytony

Learning – yeah, yeah, we know. No, you don’t know!

By Agile, PeopleNo Comments

As James and I have been building our fashionably lean Luna Tractor startup over the last 9 months, we’ve had many moments to pause and wonder why people just seem to despise reading, listening, and learning about strategy, culture and new ways of working.

It boggles us! How can this be? Learning is the hot topic du jour!

Eric Ries just reiterated his 10c worth that ‘validated learning‘ is the only true measure of progress when you are building a product or company under conditions of uncertainty.

This has caused a bit of handbag swinging in agile circles, as ‘learning’ isn’t anywhere near as easy to measure as a team’s velocity (the throughput of development stories); or a burndown chart (points per iteration); or cycle time (time for a story to turn into cash). His point is that while you may have made good progress towards achieving a plan, that plan may actually be leading nowhere useful for customers.

“Validated learning is not after-the-fact rationalisation or a good story designed to hide failure (btw I hate those smart-ass CEO put-down quotes about ‘experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted’). It is a rigorous method of demonstrating progress when one is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty in which startups grow.”

Revenue, no matter how small (in one of Eric’s startups $300 a week), is one good way to validate you have learned something useful.

It’s therefore obvious we all want learning – it makes us smarter and richer (and more like Eric Ries) for a start!

The science of learning is well documented – there are several theories, which if you happen to be an educationalist, we hope you are familiar with. One or more will likely have been inflicted on you by 10 years at school and perhaps more at a tertiary institution. We’ll side-step the science here for a minute.

Instead, we’ll talk about guitars.

As it happens we are both musicians – James an accomplished trumpet player, having played for years, and me, a struggling noob rock guitarist. It’s a skill I chose to pick up in my 40s, and whilst reading about strategy, lean and agile is a painless habit for me, guitar playing has been a start-from-scratch nightmare.

But what the guitar has been for me, I realise picking up a book or learning about agile is for others. Far out – no wonder people avoid learning!

The first thing about learning the guitar is the pain. Pain in the note-holding finger-tips (and some fine callouses to boot); along with pain in the left wrist, hand and fingers (I have a Bb7 claw hand at the moment). The pain comes from contorting my long-standing limbs and digits into new shapes and combinations.

That physical pain is nothing to the pain of emotional embarrassment at hearing notes and chords come out hideously (in front of friends and family); the feelings of incompetence that weigh down my shoulders; and worst of all the nagging, uncomfortable pressure just under the solar plexus that is my bruised self-esteem. You just suck at it, for quite a while. Nobody wants to suck. So we (quite logically) just avoid pain and sucking by staying the hell away from learning.

The second thing is that learning is tiring. I’m trashed after an hour of practice – listening, trying, re-listening, trying again, playing along … keeping up with band-mates and having fun jamming leads to the best night’s sleep.

Photo by Jamie Supple

Thirdly, learning moves at different rates. Some days it just clicks, others a small chord change can take a week to master. It doesn’t pay to plan (in my case) that I can master a song a week for example – too much uncertainty in that! Then, just as my left hand gains competence at changing from an F to an Am chord, my right hand can’t master the strum pattern that makes it sound rich and funky. The ‘team’ are learning at different rates!

The internet both helps and hinders learning – willing amateur musicians seem to have tabulated (aka written the non-notation cheats for) every song every written, and loaded them up to sites like Ultimate Guitar tabs. But most of them are wrong! As you can see in the example above I spent literally months in the wilderness with that Fly My Pretties song trying to figure out why it didn’t sound right – only to have a competent guitarist point out it was a B-flat, not a B.

Learning works so much better with feedback – and not after a week of doing something wrong, mastering the wrong damn thing only to find the chord progression was different all along – and quickly deciphered by a guitar master (see the hand-written chords at right on the photo above). Ten to 20 minute intervals of feedback are the natural human learning cycle. Which makes you wonder how useful a weekly retro can ever be!

Most of the time is spent on my guitar doing it wrong, listening and adapting. It takes a lot of repetition, and I often find it is best to just walk away and come back later – and then be amazed what your muscles have learned while you were cursing those chord changes.

Photo by James Pierce

Launching songs for real into the world at a band gig, or even a band rehearsal is a world apart from practising solo. Everything you thought you knew from doggedly playing along to the original song on the iPod goes by the wayside as the team rhythm takes over, and what matters is the skills and techniques more than the precise process of hitting all those notes in order. The order, in fact, can change with alarming speed!

And finally, a good teacher makes all the difference. I am very lucky to have several, professional and talented amateur in my life. And now I can reflect on why coaching is such a fundamental part of learning to play agile in business.

At YOW! in Melbourne this month we heard Jeff Patton talk about agile adoption, and he told us the story of how Ron Jeffries responds to people who whine about their failed agile project “oh yeah, we tried agile and it didn’t work for us”. He says that is akin to  saying “oh yeah, we tried baseball and it just didn’t work”.

You need to practice, chances are you just suck at baseball!

And it is practice that is the biggest secret of all – for guitarists, baseball teams and agilists.

Footnote: for the curious, here’s a live recording of the original (and beautiful) Fly My Pretties song tabbed so badly, and scribbled all over in my song book above.

From Insight to Strategy to Innovation – while standing at the Toyworld Checkout

By Communication, Customers, Disruption, People, Strategy2 Comments

Listen up lean and agile thinkers. This is a simple illustration of the kind of things that make innovation and strategy easy – a gift from someone on a toy shop counter that probably earns less than $20 an hour. Are you this smart? This brave?

With a 10 year old in my household, it’s little wonder I am a fan of Lego. From my own childhood memories, to their inspiring recovery from a near death business experience (after their long-standing patent for bricks expired) just by listening to customers and innovating the product accordingly, it is all good.

One of their recent products puzzled and infuriated me though. It is a single Lego minifigure in an opaque cellophane packet – ideal for for party bags for kid’s birthdays; the child at the checkout who MUST spend their pocket money on something (and they are cheap, $4 to $5 each); or perhaps the serious collector to get some custom mini figure accessories and body parts.

Yet, you can’t see which one of the 16 in the series you are going to end up with.

I will thus confess to having spent far too much time at many a big store’s Lego counter with Mr 10, eyes shut, feeling the packets to detect the slightest variation in the components to figure out if the character is Jane Torvill (uncool!) or Toxic Space Engineer (cool!).

Children’s (and collecter of greater years, ahem) ingenuity and social network savvy soon solved it – for Series 1 and 2 they quickly figured out the bar codes were different and published the key. So Lego moved the goalposts, using a single bar code and a system of dots on the packaging to differentiate figures in Series 3. The kids cracked it again.

Series 4 onwards you have no chance of detecting the difference from the packaging. The secondary market on eBay for these figures erupted, and the popularity of the series continued to grow. Business is booming. Yet I’m still grumpy about it. Why?

Why did Lego want the figure to be a surprise? Was that part of their strategy for the product? Perhaps I will never know, and Mr 10 and I quickly became disenfranchised by the whole thing.

So imagine my surprise, when dropping into Toyworld Palmerston North in NZ last week to find the Lego minifigure packets on the checkout counter, with each figure individually labeled with a hand-written number against the official Lego key. “You can’t do that”; “that’s naughty”; “that’s against the rules” were all thoughts that leapt into my rule-obeying lizard brain. Flabbergasted, I managed to regain enough English language ask why they’d done it.

And for the readers who are struggling with why the hell I am writing about toyshops, this is called INSIGHT and is the most valuable commodity you can possess when developing something new. It is Dan Pink’s ‘purpose’ and Simon Sinek’s ‘why’ in the words of a 20 year old shop clerk:

“I just saw the looks on the faces of the kids – so disappointed that they got a cheerleader when they wanted a deep sea diver, and the conflict they had, knowing they had to be grateful, but had chosen a useless gift”.

Now, agilists, here comes the STRATEGY bit – how will you do something about that problem your customer savvy product owner has found a really sharp insight about:

“Did you get an official cheat sheet from Lego on how to do it?” I asked.

“No, no – there isn’t one. We just had time while on the checkout and watching the door, so we checked each one individually, just like the kids would do.”

INNOVATION simply comes from making this a habit now, knowing things like there are only 2 robots in the latest boxes of 100 or so mini-figures, and thinking about which of their customers might really value that robot.

“The hair on number 3 in that set there is cool for making Call of Duty characters” trots out Mr 10 to the girl behind the counter. “Really? My brother is so into Call of Duty – he’ll love that one”. Minifigure #3, the uncool, pyjama-clad kid with the teddy bear just went from ‘can’t shift’ to ‘can’t keep in stock’.

That is called GROWTH.

If you’re smart, you’ll be down to Toyworld in Palmy and hire that lady on the counter for your agile innovation team. She gets it 100%.

Challenger 1986: NASA’s most explosive retrospective.

By Agile, Communication, People, Space, TechnologyNo Comments

Space Shuttle Challenger in one of the most famous (and chilling) space photos of all time.

As I read this week’s Telegraph obituary of a great American rocket scientist, I was moved to thinking about how we deal with the whistleblowers and truth-tellers in an agile world.

How can we strike a balance between encouraging transparency and realism, while managing the impact on the morale of tight-knit teams from Negative Nigels and Whining Winifreds?

I’ll be the first to say that the command and control culture of committed waterfallers (like NASA) is a fast track to secrets being kept, and problems being swept under the carpet. When “failure is not an option” on a project racing toward a fixed launch date, with scope being secretly trimmed off Gantt charts to ensure compliance with public commitments and budgets, and all-nighters pulled by tech heroes, we are just hiding failure.

Is agile any different? If it is effective, yes. But agile zombies, with their card carrying undead marching into retrospectives and standups ritually chanting out their obligations so they can get back to their desks as quickly as possible, is probably just as bad as waterfall.

This tragic tale of an ignored voice is a stern reminder of the consequences of avoiding talking about engineering issues.

When I arrived at Lonely Planet in 2007, and proceeded to shut down a failed waterfall-delivered website program, the HR team had already initiated a training program called Effective Conversations. It seemed uncomfortably basic and quaint in intent – teaching people to get good information across quickly and confidently when in meetings, in casual conversations, one on ones, or in the lunch queue.

A month later, I knew it was gold – I had yet to find a person who did not say “I knew that would happen”. People had just not managed to get the complexity and interdependence of the hairball of product and architecture problems across to Steering Committees and executives. And after a few public scoldings for being naysayers, they learned to shut up and soldier on.

Edward Tufte tackled this same issue of communicating complexity for NASA after the second major shuttle program disaster – Columbia in 2003. This $7 report from his website is one of the best training guides for agilists to invest in around effective written communication.

The constraints put upon Boeing and NASA engineers to explain the complexity of the situation where chunks of insulation had broken off the booster rockets and damaged the heat protective tiles on the leading edge of the wing, using Powerpoint slides with bullets points and a constrained number of words per line, was too great. The wrong decision was made to not space walk and inspect the damage.

I wonder if that was a ‘didn’t work’ or just a ‘puzzles us’ in a retro sense? Either way it signaled the beginning of the end for the second great chapter of the USA’s space exploration efforts. If you are facing an ever increasing complexity in your product and IT architecture, our advice is to put as much investment into improving everyone’s communication skills as you are any engineering effort.

Buy your copy of Edward Tufte’s handbook from his website here.

Eric Ries – ‘pivoting’ immortalised in a New Yorker cartoon

By Agile, Disruption, StrategyOne Comment

James and I recently had the pleasure of hearing Eric Ries speak on innovation and product development, through an excellent event called Thoughtworks Live here in Melbourne.

Eric Ries has written a great book called The Lean Startup, which was an important book on our list of 33 texts you should read to get your Luna MBA. His presentation last week did a great job of pointing out how the book is as applicable to innovation within big companies and organisations, as it is the garage-based ‘startups’ – the more popular sense of the term.

One of the most enjoyable moments was Eric’s reflection that he never set out to add a word to the global lexicon of buzzwords around startups, and how the term ‘pivot’ had become painfully over-used over the last 2 years. It is still a key concept in the book, but to some extent obsession with it has distracted from the many other great ideas. Pivoting is all about the moment you have learned your startup idea really sucks, and (in James’ words) ‘you need to take your investor’s cash and try something completely different, quickly and without them panicking and taking all their money back’.

When there’s a New Yorker cartoon based on your new buzzword, you know you’ve made it.

Is this why your boss wants to be Agile?

By Agile, People, Strategy4 Comments

There are 2 words in business more loaded with double meanings than an entire season of Benny Hill – agile, and lean.

No pointy headed boss worth their MBA (or salt) is going to ignore someone who says they would like to try to become more lean. That simply translates in their mind to ‘do more with less staff’, and focusing on cost reduction – ergo, more shareholder value and bigger bonus for the boss. If you’re not more explicit, they’ll be adjusting their Excel budget and 5 year plan PowerPoint while you’re still in their office explaining the actual guts of your idea being about changing work practices.

And in terms of agility, the PHB misinterpretation most common is that you will help them change direction in their strategy all the time. Agile = limber = flexible = ability to dance about randomly.

If you’re suffering from executive miscommunication over agile in particular, I suspect this article from the McKinsey Quarterly a few years ago (you’ll need a login to see it I’m afraid, but they’re free – search for ‘Building a nimble organization: a McKinsey Global Survey) might also be a contributor to your pain. Here’s the key issue of misinterpretation of ‘agility’ in a diagram:

Now, those things are all good, but the bottom of the ladder finishing spot of employee satisfaction and innovation is a disaster in understanding what and how agile really works. It works by creating a good system for people to work within. If you’re good at doing that, and learning in short cycles, then you might well see the benefits of higher revenues, customer satisfaction, market share and operational efficiency.

Bizarrely, if you built your organisation focusing on the stream of benefits being read in reverse order from the bottom up, I’m certain you’d have a good chance of winning. Yet these are the things CEO’s expect to be of least value in their lives.

A bad system will defeat a good employee every time. Focus on the system – people, machines, knowledge working in unison for end customers. Stop obsessing and reporting solely on revenue, efficiency and market share. They’re only a by-product of a great system.

YOW conference on Eventer.com by Cogent

By AgileNo Comments

YOW have got their speaker presentation videos all sorted on the new Eventer platform, designed and sold by Cogent Consulting in Melbourne. You will notice 2 things about it – 1) the user experience is absolutely beautiful; and 2) it is a thrill to use. Some magic has been going on down at Castle Cogent.

Check it out here:

You’ll find James Pierce and I presenting on our history of agile-like work practices here (James is the one who looks like Steve Jobs):

I also recommend Damian Conway‘s talk, who is something of a national treasure for Australian technology, and Simon Peyton Jones, the inventor of Haskell, and serial abuser of Comic Sans. Mike Lee and Linda Rising are 2 more sessions to look out for, while Martin Fowler and Jim Webber will be sure to keep you in fits of laughter as you learn.

Congratulations Cogent on the launch of Eventer – YOW makes a great showcase for you.

1963 – the beginning of a new age in computing.

By UncategorizedOne Comment

In 1963, a young puppeteer called Jim Henson created a short film to entertain the audience at the Bell Data Communications Seminar in Chicago, where the agenda included discussions of the sometimes fraught relationship between computers and their human users. Jim hits it out of the park, well, you’ll see:

The voice, at the end, when the robot strikes a couple of familiar issues, is pure Kermit.

The video is part of a series of techie videos and movies uncovered by AT&T, and came to us via that amazing website Open Culture.

YOW! 2011 Australia Conference – something for everyone, even the economists!

By Agile, Development, Lean, Space, TechnologyNo Comments

As the lunatics in charge of the Luna Tractor, James and I are fortunate to spend time with the 25% of Australian agile professionals who actually give a shit, who we often meet at industry conferences. The smarter among you will have realised I’m rudely suggesting  that 75% of so called ‘agile professionals’ don’t actually give a shit, which sounds harsh until you hear my benchmark number for traditional business people (waterfallers, 5 Year Planners, CMD+CTRL freaks) who give a shit – more like 1/100 or 1%. Maybe in some cases 0.1%, depending on the institution.

The British cabinet war rooms - agile wall, all the comms you need, the right people in the room, iterating by the hour in 1936.

Economics lesson aside, being invited to YOW! 2011 to present was a real highlight for us. James and I gave a 45 minute talk on the history of coincidentally agile-like practices over the past century, and how they have contributed to some great innovations (particularly in the engineering and space fields, our favourites), as well as some Class A ass-saving.

YOW is reputed to be a developer-centric affair, with a speaker roster even including several actual inventors of famous programming languages (check out the superstar roster here), so as the resident economist I was fairly nerve wracked! Should non-developers even go to YOW? Is it just too geeky and engineering focused? My experience is absolutely yes, you MUST go to YOW – per Martin Fowler‘s signoff at Agile Australia 2011, we are all complicit in software development now, and gathering an understanding of that craft is vital.

A speaker like Mike Lee might go over your head if you are not an engineer for 5% of the time, but he chooses to focus as much on issues like learning and intellectual property protection as development language choice (and he is damned funny while he’s at it). Someone like Kevin O’Neill from Melbourne prides himself on keeping it comprehensible for everyone, without losing the pointy stuff, and the joy of invention and discovery. The big kahunas like Simon Peyton Jones are talking as much about the history, sociology and philosophy of software engineering as they are lines of code. Meanwhile the Linda Risings and Mary Poppendiecks are there for everyone to learn from.

You can easily pick a path through the YOW! program that takes in the more social and cultural side of software engineering and working in teams (these are passions for organiser and founder Dave Thomas) as well as some more general interest code and development talks, and if ever there was an environment where it is safe for non-coders to ask dumb questions – it’s YOW!

It’s actually the developers who need to worry about their reputation in front of their peers – just say “hey, I’m not an developer, but I’d love to learn how that works in simple terms so I can understand…” and you will have an erudite, clear answer in no time.

Good software engineers love their work, and want other people to love it too.

We’d also love to see a few more software developers and testers at Agile Australia 2012 in Melbourne at the end of May, joining the lively community of product managers, agile coaches, lean gurus, analysts, iteration managers, project managers, thinkers, vendors and practitioners who gather there each year.

A great example of our agile community’s need to think more holistically was raised by Mary Poppendieck and Linda Rising at YOW, who both called  “bullshit” on agile’s current obsession with teams of 7 +/-2 people (read devs, testers and a scrum master) as ‘optimal’, when organisations that deliver products to end customers clearly involve everyone from the person on the phone to customers at the front desk, all the way to the intern. Teams of 30-70 are way more normal and work just fine, so stop obsessing about your tiny team at standup being the whole agile gang. That mirrors our experience at Lonely Planet for sure.

If you didn’t manage to get to YOW! in 2011, or as always seems to happen, were forced to choose between sessions, the majority of the papers are up on the site, and most of the presentations were video recorded – check out the YOW Eventer website put together by the Cogent crew in Melbourne for the video over the next days – there’s a couple up already including ours.

Craig Smith with Mary Poppendieck at YOW 2011 Brisbane - the gold standard 'hard act to follow' at a conference

A copy of our slides (with still images replacing the video we showed in Melbourne and Brisbane) can be viewed online here: Luna Tractor YOW 2011 Decades of Agile

YOW! is a multi-media affair, so naturally there’s a podcast – produced by two of the Australian agile community’s bright young things, Craig Smith (who blogs here when not

Breakfast at Brew Cafe in Brisbane - sensational

coaching and inspiring agilists) and Renee Troughton (who has a great site called The Agile Forest). This was done in a fab (very Lonely Planet) little cafe called Brew in Brisbane, so the background noise is fairly busy, and we discussed (I suspect that should read ‘Nigel talked about’ – Ed. JP) a vast range of topics around agile, Lonely Planet, consulting and change.

You can listen to that podcast here, and of course it’s available on iTunes: http://www.theagilerevolution.com/episode-19-luna-tractor-with-nigel-dalton

My very best impression of the French gallic shrug - perhaps in reponse to Charles' line of questioning on whether Microsoft could be agile 😉

And finally on the media front, Microsoft’s Channel 9 conducted interviews of many of the speakers at the conference.

You’ll find them all on their prolific and rich tech-focused website, while my own epic 30 minutes of righteous crapping on about everything agile, Lonely Planet, and offering unqualified advice to Microsoft about becoming agile can be accessed right here.

See you all next year.

Luna BAHA Award nominee #1: “Implementing Scrum in your project will certainly be a cakewalk after this training”

By Agile, People2 Comments

Picture credit: Dan Abramson

We’d like to present our first nominee for the Newt Gingrich ‘Lunar Colony 2020’ bullshit agile hubris award (the Luna BAHA).

Ed Cortis, the lucky recipient of the email below, is CIO at Lonely Planet, and has a pretty decent knowledge of how  challenging it is to upgrade from the organisational equivalent of Microsoft Windows 3.11 (using commands to control!) to a more Mac OSX agile-like culture – for 4 years he built and ran Lonely Planet’s agile – ITIL – DevOps operational teams, before taking over technology overall in 2011. It is an organisational transition that not many people pull off – but once an Apple agile convert, you’ll never go back.

Ed consequently knows a fair bit about Scrum, plus XP and even Kanban, and the resulting hybrids that the couple of dozen teams at LP now use every day to get things done.

It wasn’t the email’s bizarre spelling and grammar, or the screwy mail-merge that started it off with ‘Dear Cortis’ that sent the numb feeling to Ed’s legs – it was the suspicion that within Australian business’s desperately scrambling to ‘see their business grow at an amazing pace like never before’, too many IT departments would fall for an email like this and leap on the vendor’s international Scrum certification bandwagon, believing the hyperbole. I mean, they’ve got Mike Beedle, world-renowned Scrum guy!

I can hear it now – “Off you go to training, and then come back to make us live by the values and practices of agile please!” As we say in NZ – “yeah right”. It would be a funny joke, if it weren’t horribly true.

Are we being too literal, harsh and grumpy? You decide:

Oddly the  main benefits quoted are about you getting a certificate, not a team successfully transforming to a top agile modus operandi. Resume driven development then.

So sorry to disappoint anyone, but:
a) The simple task of ‘just getting rid of conventional ways of working’ will take most of the organisation to change their ways, and that won’t come with this certificate;
b) Implementing Scrum in your project will never be a cakewalk, no matter how many credits you collect, or exams you pass; and
c) Once you’ve finally grasped that, and you’re certain Scrum is the one for you, why not just club together the cash you and your mates might have dropped on a certificate each, and get someone like Kane Mar at Scrumology, Martin Kearns at SMS-Renewtek, or Sandy Mamoli in NZ (or plenty of other good local people) to show you hands-on how Scrum actually works on an actual business or product problem you have.

Hell, they even do certification training, but I don’t think you’ll find them ever promising a cakewalk.

A moon walk maybe…

Rugby and the origins of agile

By Agile, Lean, People4 Comments

A recurring challenge we face when discussing the transformation of 21st century organisations to more agile and lean ways of working might be paraphrased as:

“My boss has never heard of it and thinks it must be a fad – does this agile thing have any history to fall back on?”

Having just spent a week at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand with plenty of time to reflect (kiwis don’t go for half-time extravaganzas), it occurred to me this FAQ – which might better stand for ‘fairly annoying question’ – should be a blog post, suitably peppered with rugby metaphors.

RWC 2011, Georgia v Romania

The long history of agile goes back to the emergence of mass production from a world of ‘craft’ industrial production in the 1800s. Around 1908, Henry Ford, with management theorist FW Taylor (and later AP Sloan albeit Sloan worked at GM, not Ford) developed moving production lines in huge factories focusing on economies of scale (make more of the same thing, use semi-skilled labour single-tasking and doing what the boss commanded of them, and unit cost comes down), building any colour of Model T as long as it was black.

When a new product was finally demanded (the Model A), Henry and son Edsel Ford simply abandoned the old factory at Highland Park in Detroit and built a new one at River Rouge, as land and labour were plentiful – the factory and re-tooling reputedly cost up to $100m in 1927 dollars!

The next great leap forward in industrial production methods was not developed in America, but in Japan with America’s help, emerging after World War 2 under a rather unique set of circumstances as the Japanese economy was rebuilt – limited capital, limited land, and limits set on labour by the USA including the bizarre ‘job for life’ laws which forced employers to develop systems of working that enabled 60 year-olds to be productive alongside 16 year-olds.

The system that emerged is now known widely under the tag of lean, but also as the Toyota Production System (TPS), and in Deming’s writings ‘systems thinking‘. By the second half of the 20th century, there was no capacity for constraining consumer demand to only 1 model of car – variation in consumer demand and the increasing speed of change were the key challenges for Toyota to respond to as it set up for business. It was within the cradle of this 40-year period that Agile was born as the next great model of organising work.

The happy coincidental crossing of national obsessions: rugby and lean.

Rugby came to Japan in the 1890s from England. In 1987, built on over 100,000 grassroots players in their corporate leagues and competitions (including imported players from NZ and Australia), Japan qualified to play at the first Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. (Note: Japan actually only lost the hosting of the 2011 RWC by 1 vote – so they will certainly be hosts in the next decade). The national coach for Japan is of course John Kirwan, a kiwi hero of the victorious 1987 All Blacks team.

Just a year before that first Rugby World Cup, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka of Hitotsubashi University in Japan wrote an article for Harvard Business Review titled ‘The New New Product Development Game‘ that is recognised as the source of a stream of innovative thinking that first rolled into smarter ways of developing software in the 1990s.

Clearly Takeuchi and Nonaka were rugby fanatics, meticulously documenting the way a good rugby team can flow up the field as a team in a series of overlapping phases of play (like option C in the diagram above)- and using that analogy to describe the way successful product development was happening in Japanese companies. Remember the Honda City and the stir it created in the 1980s? That’s one of several great examples they document in the article.

Ultimately Jeff Sutherland‘s coining of the phrase ‘scrum’ in the 1990s to define a wide-reaching agile method was inspired by that article. Personally, I feel ‘scrum’ somewhat misses the overall point of their work, as a scrum is a tiny fraction of the game’s flow, but we’ll go with it. We’re not all rugby-nerds or kiwis.

The most important thing you (the reader) can do right now is to buy a copy of the 1986 article and read it. It is only $6.95, and yes, there is a frustrating paywall thing on HBR.org, but it will be worth it.

For the 99% of you who are non-readers, here is the HBR summary of the article:

In today’s fast-paced, fiercely competitive world of commercial new product development, speed and flexibility are essential. Companies are increasingly realizing that the old, sequential approach to developing new products simply won’t get the job done. Instead, companies in Japan (and the United States) are using a holistic method—as in rugby, the ball gets passed within the team as it moves as a unit up the field.

This holistic approach has six characteristics: built-in instability, self-organizing project teams, overlapping development phases, “multilearning,” subtle control, and organizational transfer of learning. The six pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, forming a fast flexible process for new product development. Just as important, the new approach can act as a change agent: it is a vehicle for introducing creative, market-driven ideas and processes into an old, rigid organization.

And when you’re done with the article, pass it quickly down-field to the captain of your team. Remember, companies have been using and refining this way of working to beat you since the 1980s, so what are you waiting for? It will cost you 200 times that amount of money to go to the RWC final in Auckland and see the world championship of agile in action for yourself.

My thanks to Marcus Fazio, multi-national consultant extraordinaire, and Japanese expert who reminded me of this all important link between two of my favourite things. I’m sure Marcus, Takeuchi and Nonaka would all have enjoyed this fabulous moment from the RWC last month.

Japan's winger Hirotoki Onozawa runs to score a try during the 2011 Rugby World Cup pool A match New Zealand vs Japan at Waikato stadium in Hamilton on September 16, 2011. (Photo credit: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

 

A new orbit – thoughts on leaving Lonely Planet

By People

Last Friday my work at Lonely Planet was completed. The new website team, led by half a dozen energetic founders from Melbourne, re-started in London after an intense 100 day transition program that was judged a great success.

The opportunity to take to the wider business community the radically lean, agile and kanban ways of working that have been developed in my time at Lonely Planet has begun – here’s my parting thoughts from the big day.

When I joined Lonely Planet in April 2007, the world was somewhat different.

  • YouTube was only 18 months old, and we all wondered how the world’s largest collection of dog and cat videos would ever survive given it had no way of actually making money.
  • Facebook had about 40m users, and we all kindof assumed it was destined to be a pale imitation of the dominant MySpace with 120m users.
  • Rolling up American trailer trash mortgages into great big bundles of fiscal shit, polishing those turds and selling them to Asian retirement and investment funds was a great business to be in.
  • Some guy called John Howard was the Prime Minister of Australia, and the nation’s primary policy focus was turning back small boats full of refugees.
  • There was no iPhone.
  • There was no iPad.
  • There was no Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, or other digital book platform.
  • http://www.icanhazcheeseburger.com  was yet to be registered.
  • There was no such concept as Groupon, or 4Square.
  • Rupert Murdoch didn’t own the Wall Street Journal.
  • Lonely Planet believed outsourcing, enterprise software and waterfall delivery were ‘the shit that killed’ (a favourite Lance Armstrong quote that one).
  • I couldn’t play the guitar at all, and certainly wasn’t cool enough to be in a band.
  • Popular music was dominated by the unashamed ass-waving of Fergie, Gwen Stefani, Rihanna, Keisha, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Gwen Stefani and Nelly Furtado.
  • Drugs, betting and schoolgirls were the dominant news headlines relating to the AFL; and…
  • We had no idea what would happen to Harry Potter.

It is good to know only some things change then.

Those things that did change, changed quite dramatically in that short time.

Since 2007, I have spent millions of Lonely Planet’s dollars of hard-earned income (running IT, then helping run Digital) trying to figure out our strategic response to some of the more radical challenges thrust upon us. That’s thousands of dollars an hour in the average working week. So, if like our CFO, you’re you’re all wondering what the Retro on a transformation project of that scale looks like:

What worked?

  • Being agile, not just DOING agile: most organisations only ever get to ‘doing agile’, somehow our culture, our business crisis facing the GFC and our challenges of new media have led us to BEING agile. We talk daily. We learn weekly. We adapt to change. We are transparent about the work and priorities. This capability of moving fast will serve Lonely Planet well.
  • And as I have said before – if you don’t like change, you’re going to enjoy irrelevance even less.
  • The caring: not so much in the ‘gives a shit’ sense, we know people at LP give a shit (it’s a hiring filter). Just the raw humanity of the place:
    • You eat food and drink coffee from the Mad Dog cafe made with LOVE, and you can taste it. And James, I don’t for one moment hold your pork roast crackling responsible for my open heart surgery.
    • When something bad happens, the wagons are circled and it is sorted out.
    • There is music, and humour, and art. Everywhere.
    • The individuals all know who they are. Too many to mention, or thank.
    • It is so special I shall be partaking in the social aspects that are extended to people beyond the walls of this golden cage in Footscray – the musicians especially, but also the agilists, the innovators, the emerging lean leaders, those who I have spent a lot of time with. We should all try to make our alumni more comfortable with coming back, for lunch, drinks, or a catch-up. Help them to get over the embarrassment and discomfort and get them out here.
  • The smartness. No doubt, with an agreed strategy, 20 people randomly selected from Lonely Planet could leave here, start and succeed in a new business venture in the travel space. It’s a good thing, and a sign of the glue that binds this place that they so rarely do!

What didn’t work?

  • Needing open heart surgery part way through the website relaunch. This event, potentially life-changing for me, showed Lonely Planet and BBCW’s mettle, depth of talent and support for its employees beyond the call of duty.
  • The result however, was coming back from a mid-life disaster with a focused passion on transforming the entire organisation’s capability – not just IT, but everywhere. The result is the most agile enterprise I know – from finance, legal, sales, product development to HR.

What puzzles me?

  • Those people who can still be heard murmuring to themselves about all this damned change stopping or slowing down. Well folks, Google bought Zagat this morning so the madness continues as we sit here.
  • Why don’t you read? You have the best business book library of any business I have ever worked in, and better than most bookshops I have been in. It is a treasure. But it’s dusty. As a brand new writer myself (as opposed to the shitful celebrity agile blogger I might be described as by my friend Amy Gray ;-), I can attest to the amount of thinking that you have to do to make an argument cogent enough to justify a book. Use that sweat wisely – read the result… books.

What would I do differently?

  • Go beyond our walls! My 4+ years at LP has now given me the chance to co-found a small business doing what I am deeply passionate about – teaching others that there are better, smarter ways of working, which can also result in a better quality of life. That business (based on this blog) opens on Monday 12 September, and will be blown along by the support of many of you, not the least of whom is Matt who I thank greatly for giving us the courage to follow our passion.

Masters research on Dalton Pierce Digital Disruption Quotient

By Disruption2 Comments

Remember this post and this formula?

The DPQ was our effort to explain the massive disruption suffered when technology starts to influence customers and business, in particular media and publishing businesses. It has survived many conferences, discussions and debates, but now we’re delighted a graduate student at RMIT has picked it up and will put it to the test for his Master’s thesis.

Matty Soccio is a former colleague of ours at Lonely Planet. He’s from the hallowed world of book editorial, so without our digital fanboy tendencies he will doubtless prove a good cynical tester of some of our predictions – and if he’s a good scientist he will be going in trying to disprove our work! Here’s Matty’s thinking on what he is about to undertake.

Breaking Down the DPPQ

The words ‘digital content’ elicit a plethora of intriguing ideas and misconceptions, though you can’t find fault in those who are out there everyday furiously tapping keyboards or skimming thousands of pages of online information in an effort to understand. I should know – that’s me too.

But why? Why are we spending all this time that we could be making meaningful friendships in the ‘real’ world, attempting to find out more about the struggle to control and ‘monetise’ ethereal concepts that we can have little hope of mastering?

Now that I’ve decided to take the plunge back into the academic world, I’m beginning to further realise the folly of ‘control’ in the digital media landscape. Perhaps the idea isn’t about control; hell, even ‘management’ could be considered as somewhat of a misnomer here. Maybe the word that future electronic publishers should be thinking about is ‘harness’. Harness the enthusiasm of millions of online contributors out there. Harness the power of new devices that are changing the way we consume content of all types of digital content. Harness the joy people get from discovering something new.

In my first semester I’m discovering what my own field of research will be. So far? The extraordinary creators of Luna Tractor have effectively given me free rein to break something of theirs.

As dedicated readers of the Luna Tractor blog would know, a theory called the Dalton-Pierce Digital Disruption Quotient raised a few eyebrows at its perplexing suggestions about the future possibility of continued control and success of traditional paid content business models in the publishing and media sector.

How does the economy affect their ability to attach tried-and-true business models to future technology/consumer trends? Are the old ideas of ‘content economics’ hiding a longer-term problem in the future of the publishing/media sector? Are the devices that people consume media on, and the consumers themselves, changing the way they consume at a faster rate than traditional organisations can keep up? Will digital content (whether it’s writing, video, whatever) continue to have an economic value on it in the near future? Many large traditional publishing organizations hope so. The Dalton-Pierce Digital Disruption Quotient may hold a key to these questions… however, there should be emphasis kept on the term ‘may’.

My aim isn’t to prove or disprove the DPDDQ, but to understand what the theory itself can tell us – is it a proverbial crystal ball or the ramblings of mad scientists? If I can show a subsequent conclusion from the results of the theory, all the better. For now (at these extremely early stages of my research) I’m content to find out if I can further my understanding of it.

If this means breaking it, fine. If it means succumbing to its lure of concrete results, perfect. By blogging my progress readers can hopefully draw their own conclusions from my results, and participate in the never-ending knowledge pool that is the digital world. In other words, to share the journey and knowledge transfer that will help to develop our understanding of this world.

What the hell is Luna Tractor? Ask Wordle.com

By UncategorizedNo Comments

As a tool to uncover sentiment and themes about a brand, topic or organisation, Wordle is a powerful and fun toy that generates “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source. Here’s what they say in response to our question above – looks pretty good to me:

Top 10 agile and lean resources

By Agile, Lean, linksOne Comment

I’ve just written a friend an email with our curated list of resources to inspire teams to start working in a more modern way.

Looking at it, I think it makes a half decent blog post – so here it is!

Passion for customers: you can’t beat Seth Godin. I recommend 2 books – Meatball Sundae which will tell you why you need to think differently to amaze your customers in a digital world; and The Purple Cow for becoming remarkable (as opposed to perfect).

Passion for people: Dan Pink (motivating knowledge workers through autonomy, mastery and purpose) is the king here, though Simon Sinek (emphasising the ‘why’) is a close second. Luckily, YouTube is your friend here.

Agile product development: Steve Blank is the guru here, but being a Stanford lecturer his writing can seem a little impenetrable at times. Two of his students wrote this book which makes far more sense and gets to the point quickly: http://www.custdev.com/ also available on Amazon.

Lean startups: Eric Ries has some great ideas for people starting out, whether they are a real startup or just starting something new in an old world organisation: see some basic slides here, and his upcoming book (due September 2011).

Testing your ideas and products with real people: at Lonely Planet, applying the lessons in this book is how we started to seriously find out things about our digital products that we never knew before: http://www.amazon.com/Rocket-Surgery-Made-Easy-Yourself/dp/0321657292

There is a great online service mentioned in the back of the book that removes all barriers to you trying this approach of asking real customers what they think about your product or service, for about $35. No excuses! http://www.usertesting.com/

Lean as a new way of thinking: one great book, covering Toyota’s development of lean manufacturing (the parent of agile) is Jeff Liker’s book The Toyota Way. It gives you the basic premises of running a lean business with lots of examples.

If the nerdy tech stuff starts to fascinate you, then it’s hard to beat James Shore’s primer on agile software development. Any deeper than that then Martin Fowler’s blog is compulsory reading: http://martinfowler.com/

You’ll impress the pants off people if you can comprehend and quote from these principles: http://agilemanifesto.org/ and http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html

Getting things done fast: no better book (or easier read) than Rework by 37 Signals. This puts a lot of the principles above into practice, and if you only read one book, this might be it.

And lastly, from a cultural and organizational change perspective, this is a toolset you should plan on using with your teams: http://www.human-synergistics.com.au/ plus they have a free conference in Melbourne later in the year that people should really try to find a way of getting to.

Working in an Agile way will change habits, and with careful planning those changes in habits can start a landslide of cultural change.

Reflections on Agile in Australia

By UncategorizedNo Comments

James and I were both on the roster of speakers at Agile Australia 2011 this year. There were some great presentations over the 2 days, the highlight for me being Martin Fowler’s closing address on the profession of software development in the 21st century. His point was simply “we are ALL software development companies now, so you need to understand some technology basics”.

It resonated for me having led the charge over 4+ years on the journey from Lonely Planet proudly proclaiming it was “not a technology company” in 2007 (thus they’d seemingly outsourced everything that had a green LED light on it) to one where our digital and publishing businesses both revel in having high levels of technology competency on the teams.

If you have not heard Martin talk about technical debt, software complexity and development abandon this blog immediately and read these 3 blog posts:

Martin Fowler of Thoughtworks delivers the final address.

Technical Debt 101

Technical Debt quadrant diagram

The design payoff line (aka the line of regret)

Having attended Agile Australia for the last 3 years, I was amazed to see the change in the profile of people attending, and how rapidly agile is taking hold in Australia.

The plaintiff cry was pretty much “we’ve been doing agile for a year now, but we still feel the pull of gravity back to the world of 5 year plans, business cases and large teams working on projects where the design is done up front – why is agile such hard work? It’s not fair!”

That matches our own experience at Lonely Planet – year 2 can be pretty agonising as some team members lose the faith (having suffered a failure or two); a lot of ‘hiding Harrys’ have their shortcomings at prioritising product features and joining the dots at standup every day exposed; the scrum zombies get a foothold; and in our case, romantic memories were revived by finance of life under waterfall governance being somehow more certain in its outcomes. “Certain to fail” I was forced to point out at times, pulling out our $6m clock.

My advice? With stakeholders, stop talking about agile and start talking Lean at this point. Focus on measuring value, eliminating waste, improving flow of work, building what the customer has pulled, and speed of delivering to customers. Talk about ‘time to cash’ and start measuring customer outcomes. Put those metrics up on the board alongside the points delivered and burn down charts. Focus and talk about being great, not being agile.

James Pierce

James spoke on the subject of agile workspaces – a topic on which there is very little written. A lot of dangerous fallacies exist about open plan offices that can impinge the success of any transition to agile working methods. It is not all about rows of desks with paired programmers yammering away to each other – you need carefully designed quiet spaces and well thought-out dynamics. From the level of questions that ensued, this is a topic that needs further expansion.

Nigel Dalton

I presented a series of case studies on agile product development – using examples of a number of Lonely Planet stories where things had not gone as planned, and linking those results back to where we overlooked some key agile principles like customer input, releasing early and testing.

I was delighted to score tweet of the day with my flippant “every time you draw a gantt chart a fairy dies”.

Jean Tabaka provided Day 2’s opening with a stern reminder that the agile community has its destiny in its own hands, and essentially should stop whining and start building. That means all of us!

Facebook = AOL 2.0?

By Disruption, TechnologyNo Comments

With today’s announcement from Facebook that they have embedded Skype’s video  conferencing service, and the subsequent arrival of all my friends pictures on both left and right panels of my Facebook wall, and the beta launch of Google + I am moved to dust off an old blog post from my personal blog on the subject of the internet and how IMHO Facebook was taking us down the (walled) garden path.

Useful as a history lesson perhaps, or a check on my powers of prediction 😉

Old post begins here…

As some would know, I recently dived back into the seething biomass known as Facebook. I’d abandoned the service (committing ‘Facebookicide’) in 2008, after being stalked by one too many lesbians from Queensland to be their latest collected trophy-friend (me, a trophy?).

From where I sat, it appeared to be a massive online home for the bewildered.

Lured back into the water in 2010 by online community guru @venessapaech and the Lonely Planet strategic thinkers, I am amazed to see how it has grown. So much so, that my initial conclusion is that we are now dealing with a serious platform leap from college dorm to a new core of the internet – and another prime example of the tension between different perspectives on the web as a democratic platform, versus a closed, proprietary commercial network.

There has always been someone who attempted to dominate the shabby collection of servers, wires and users we call the internet. Its not surprising – human history is peppered with rising and falling empires, and this new digital land grab is much the same. If you’ll pardon the quality of the research, here’ s my potted view of the history of that race between the open and closed camps. As always, Wikipedia is a better historian than I’ll ever be, so many links go to them!

ARPAnet (1958 – 1988): apparently originally inspired in the Cold War period (in particular Sputnik’s shock factor in the technology race), this loose confederation of military and academic servers and connections was the seed of the internet and the classic ‘closed’ network.

Minitel (1982): ultimately nearly 25m French people were connected to Minitel, a governmental postal/telecom collaboration to supply citizens with access via a terminal to information directories, booking services, message boards, stock prices and chat services. The network was tightly managed and closed to anything not endorsed by the state – a position the owners far too long into the life of the internet as it developed in the 1990s. That said, the announcement it would be finally killed off in 2009 was met with public outcry – and still 1m banking transactions a month are done on the historic terminals.

AOL (1983): the first major money making walled garden on the internet in the English speaking world, founded on online games and communities (including popularising chat on the internet with ICQ), rising to 30m users over the next 20 years then famously blowing it all in a merger with Time Warner in 2001. Who could forget the rain-storm of direct marketed CD-ROMs that came in fancy tins and packages tempting you onto their network? And once you were in, they had you under their control. Most AOL users right through the 1990s thought AOL was the internet, holus-bolus.

The actual Internet (1988): the year the military and the commercial networkers joined up, including emerging private sector networks Compuserve, UUNet, PSINet, CERFNET, and Usenet. Still a bunch of list servers, technical people and a minimum number of tools to connect people without IT degrees or an interest in ham radio.

World Wide Web (1991): with the term coined by CERN’s Tim Berners-Lee, this was a layer on top of the internet that enabled sharing of resources beyond the list and text heavy document and email platform. It was classicly ‘open’ – anarchic in some ways with the emphasis on interconnection to make the world a better place through sharing.

The web caused a boom in browser software (and with Netscape Navigator in 1994 the beginning of the get rich quick internet startup decade), the lens you needed to see everything that was out there, no matter who or where it was served. Unless perhaps you live in China or the new Australia.

MSN (1995): Microsoft famously ‘got the web’ in the mid-90s, and MSN was their attempt at a walled garden, which basically proved they did not get the web at all. Their ongoing efforts to keep people within their domain included Hotmail, Messenger, MSN Explorer, and to some extent Internet Explorer as a non-standard browser. MSN has around 10m members today (note: fact to be checked), and has morphed into Windows Live as Microsoft’s attempt to stay relevant to a generation of users that prefer to Google, Twitter and Facebook.

Broadband WWW (c2005): without doubt the expansion of high speed wiring to the many nodes of the internet changed the game, and saw the emergence of traditional media players showing video, images and enabling collaboration and sharing in ways that dialup constrained.

Mobile WWW (c2008): 3G wireless in wide supply and a new generation of intelligent phone handsets once again changed the nature of the internet, initially slowing some things down but causing simplification and refocus about what it meant to be connected 24 x 7 x 365. Without doubt the earlier incarnations of the wireless web contributed to the acceleration of internet users to an estimated 1.6b in 2009.

Facebook (September 2006): starting small and purposeful, this College white pages site has emerged as a global player, with enough functionality and interconnectivity to keep an ‘internet’ user within it’s 4 walls for hours a day. On its way to a self-professed 1 billion members by 2012, it already has 400m members across the world and 200m highly active contributors. <editor’s note: today’s claim a year later is 750m members>

Remember it took the internet 2 decades to get 1b members!

The combination of Facebook’s fast-growing community plus hardwiring to platforms like iTunes and news media (via Facebook Connect) is further enhancing the rush back to a new type of walled garden. My beloved iPhone is a simple example – Facebook actually wraps an unbranded Safari browser for links external to Facebook, and I am rarely more than 1 button away from my news stream.

At the same time, people are searching, chatting, messaging, piping in their Twitter streams, their Youtube favourites, their Amazon book reviews and their Flickr photo collections. And spending on average 6.5 hours a day connected to the site. Soon there will be word processing, spreadsheets and proper search, and your homepage on Firefox or Chrome will be http://www.facebook.com.

Advertisers on TV and the web are starting to end their 30 second commercials with ‘See us on Facebook’ rather than making us remember their torturous www.thenextbigthing.com URL or go to a site generation Y probably can’t even use because of its overdesigned 1990s based navigation and complexity. Businesses are starting to consider internal Facebook networks to replace Microsoft’s 20 year old Outlook email and messaging, and a growing number of tools like Yammer are emerging to fill the gaps.

Now, the traditional website concept is unlikely to go away, and no doubt history will show that something succeeds Facebook. But for many people, Facebook will be the new AOL – you can check out, but you can never leave.

Call me a hippy, but I think I liked the Tim Berners-Lee vision better.

How they found Lunokhod 1 – still contributing to science

By Moon, TechnologyOne Comment

Any article on the internet that contains a photo as brilliant as this deserves promoting – but this one by Ariel Bleicher on IEEE from September 2010 is especially amazing, and contains the story of scientists rediscovering the little moon tank that could, and putting it to work again.

Just to add a weird twist to the story – the Lunokhod 2 moon rover was bought by this guy in 1993. Wonder what this one is worth?

Charles Darwin – agile 150 years ago

By AgileNo Comments

Darwin's journal from the Beagle voyage contains this diagram and the beginnings of a world-changing idea. Note the 'I think' at the top.

Working at Lonely Planet has taught James and me a lot of lessons about the publishing business – not the least of which is the chasm between the product lifecycles enjoyed by the average travel guidebook and the average digital guide.

A good guidebook, written by people who actually went to the place being written about, may take up to 2 years to hit the shelves – but with a useful life of another 2 years, it has a fair chance to pay the publisher back with sales over a long period. Basically, when that guidebook finally hits the shelves at Readings, the authors are back on the road.

Printed books are nearly impossible to revise – once the ink dries and the binding glue is set, it’s pretty much done – apart from the reprints – which are a bonus not often seen given careful planning for sales volumes. Earthquakes, regime changes, tsunamis, and recessions are the travel publisher’s nightmare. For publishers of longer lasting texts like novels, the discouragement to change is simply cost. Customer feedback be damned! And the author is likely to have moved onto the next project (very waterfall!).

Lonely Planet has been working (in a most agile fashion) on a new way of publishing guides. With Amazon now selling as many eBooks as paper books, the world of apps and digital texts has opened an opportunity to do things very differently.

But Lonely Planet is far from the first group of authors and publishers in the world to understand agility, continuous release processes and adapting to customer feedback. And a great example from 150 years ago is Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. As always, we’re not going to rewrite Wikipedia here, so we’ll focus on the agile bits.

1. Darwin was a practitioner of Toyota’s lean manufacturing principle of genchi genbutsu (roughly ‘go and see for yourself’)  – not the least of which was enduring a famous voyage on the Beagle from 1831 to 1836, where as botanist he was staggered to discover the world was not as the English experts had surmised.

2. There were many iterations of his theory researched, discussed and written before the idea was released. Darwin had a reasonably well-formed theory by 1838, but the book was held from public view until 1859. Darwin wanted it to be a great book, well-written and suited to a general reader. Quality takes time, and he had other projects he was working on in parallel – including the journals from the Beagle voyage, which were finished in 1854.

3. When the production release of Origin finally hit the bookshops, it was a conservative print run (about 1,200 copies for sale), designed to gauge initial customer reaction to a controversial topic. Within 8 weeks a 2nd edition was on the shelves, with a print run of 3,000. It went on to have 6 releases in total, and by the final edition in 1872, the book was selling 250 copies a month.

4. Darwin had no fear of adding content, deleting sections he was not happy with, and responding to reader’s questions and complaints. Ben Fry’s amazing infographic showing the evolution of the book can be viewed here at http://benfry.com/traces/

Although agile can sometimes seem like a missionary sale to large corporations, none of have suffered the public criticism leveled at Charles Darwin for his theories.

5. The most fascinating addition is the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. Herbert Spencer, a philosopher who had published his book Principles of Biology in 1864 had coined the term, and Darwin felt it useful to comment at length on the concept (having coined his own term ‘natural selection’ to explain his theory), as well as responding to his critics in a whole new chapter. It is widely noted that Herbert Spencer’s other contribution to western civilisation was the paperclip – truly a great inventor!

It is this last point that seems most relevant to agile product and software development today – in particular the massive  misunderstanding that being the biggest, the strongest, the fastest, the wealthiest or the most aggressive will kill off the others and win the race. Darwin had only adopted the phrase so willingly because it better explained the impact of environmental pressure and competition on the rate of change of species.

As Darwin reputedly pointed out late in his life, when asked if he had any regrets, he conceded that the entire concept of the qualities needed to endure had been  misunderstood widely from that edition and the populist phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ onwards. What he had always meant, was that the species most adaptive to change would be the one that succeeded.

And that, is fundamentally agile. Think of Charles Darwin when you next write the agile tenet ‘embrace change‘ on a whiteboard somewhere.

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