If you aren’t familiar with the story of The Blind Men and The Elephant it is about six blind men that go to study an elephant. When they come back, they all report on the elephant in different ways. They variously report they found a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, and a length of rope. They argue to defend their perspective. The discrepancy lies in the fact that each studied a different part of the elephant. The poem and the related illustrations at the link above demonstrate the story very well. The story is a metaphor about how we see the world from our individual perspective and have a difficult time understanding the bigger picture.
Delivering software and technology is a lot like that elephant. Over my career, I have been the blind man trying to figure that elephant out. I wrote code for the first decade, then began to study what great code and then architecture looked like. I joined user groups and associations and studied the engineering practices around software development. I studied function point counting and became a member of IFPUG. In the mid 1990’s Senge and Ackoff seeded my Systems Thinking perspective. My work at Perot Systems shaped my Business Process Re-engineering perspective. My degree is in Organizational Psychology and Development and I have been fascinated with the role language, knowledge creation, and team dynamics play in this area. I first read “The Goal” and “Critical Chain” in 1998 and have studied and applied the TOC thinking processes and CCPM to project scheduling. I have been greatly influenced by Theory of Constraints thinking. I have been around Agile development for over 10 years. I have a bookshelf full of eXtreme Programming and Agile books. I am also very involved with the project management institute as well, earning my PMP in 1998 and I spent the last couple years as the Deputy Project Manager of the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model - OPM3®. I earned my Lean Value Stream Mapping certification from the Lean Enterprise Institute in 1999.
In each of these cases I went into the community trying to learn what they had to offer and figuring out how to responsibly help companies profitably deliver technology. One of the interesting things I have consistently observed is the disdain these communities hold for most of the other communities. I was at an Architecture conference in 1991 where the various OOAD people were actually yelling about the best way to identify objects for a system. The TOC and Agile people really dislike the PMI people. Even inside the Agile community, the Lean and Agile groups are at each other’s throats. Engineers discount the human elements and the softer side of team dynamics. Everyone is arguing for the importance of their view of the elephant. High ceromony scoff at the lack of maturity of the low ceromony while the low ceromony ridicule the waste of heavy and useless process and artifacts.
The problem is that the answer is not one particular part of the elephant. No one is completely right. We need to optimize the entire elephant and turn it into a sleek and agile race-horse. The battles between whether the elephant is a tree or a fan or a snake are not productive. They obscure the path to improving the ways that we can responsibly and profitably deliver value to our customers.
I spent last week at a course with Jeff Sutherland, one of the creators of SCRUM. The SCRUM he talks about is different than what I have seen on many SCRUM teams or read in books. Jeff incorporates aspects from Theory of Constraints, and Lean, and Knowledge Management. He promotes the items in the Agile Manifesto but incorporates elements from everything he has learned and observed. Jeff is trying to build a “big-tent” approach that brings responsible practices together while increasing performance and developing hyper-productive teams.
I encourage each of us to recognize our myopia in understanding this elephant. Try to understand the basic principles behind each practice and idea. Let’s agree that the way organization’s identify, manage, create, and deliver technology to organizations and customers is insufficient and put a lot more energy into improving. Technology plays a very important role in our economy today. We can’t get good enough fast enough right now, and dogmatic wars are too costly. What can we be doing to rapidly cross-pollinate and greatly improve our ability to profitably deliver value to our customers?