Agile Business: just to be clear…

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Since Scoble linked to it, this short post on an HP printer firmware development group getting a 3.4x productivity increase through Agile is likely to get some attention.

I’m in the process of writing about how even a Methodology skeptic can have lots of positive things to say about Agile…but even so, it worries me when I see stuff that appears to promise that Agile (or pretty much anything) will get rid of your gambling debts, quit smoking, be a friend, be a companion, and be the only product you will ever need.

I worry about seeing stuff like this because I have a (perhaps cynical) belief that some people will see these numbers and say something like: “Wow! We’ve got 45 projects that need to be done in the next 90 days, and right now we’re on track to only complete 1/3 of them…if we implement Agile processes and get a 3.4x increase in productivity, we’ll be able to get them all done plus some other shit, too! Alfred — bring me the Bat-phone!” And 90 days later there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, because Agile processes did not magically add more hours to the day, nor reduce the scope of those 45 projects.

Looking at the few HP numbers provided, the biggest points made are that were made were that the cycle duration decreased from 9 months to 2 months and that the amount of work in progress descreased 5x. And that, to me, doesn’t sound like Agile worked some magic — it sounds like HP did the smart thing: the didn’t try to work on everything at once, they figured out what the most important things for the company were right then, and they focused on getting those things done. Less work in progress at any given point in time — about 1/5 what they used to have — but the things that they are working on get done in…oddly enough, about 1/5 the time that it used to take.

And just to be clear: that’s an incredibly good thing and a huge achievement…it’s just not magic. It’s an achievement that comes from the company as a whole being willing and able to make some really hard decisions about what’s really important to their business.

Our regularly scheduled Agile series will resume shortly.