Sailing by Sight

When it comes to agili­ty, many peo­ple think in terms of meth­ods such as Scrum on a small scale, frame­works such as LeSS on a large scale or tools such as JIRA. This per­spec­tive leads to a mul­ti­tude of car­go cult, i.e. art­ful­ly cel­e­brat­ed actions with­out any effect. Agili­ty is first and fore­most a ques­tion of stance, which is best cap­tured by the notion of sail­ing by sight. While clas­sic plan-dri­ven com­pa­nies always strive to ana­lyze, plan and then imple­ment as com­pre­hen­sive­ly as pos­si­ble, agile com­pa­nies prag­mat­i­cal­ly ask them­selves peri­od­i­cal­ly what they can do here and now to improve and fur­ther devel­op their product.

We have a strate­gic plan. It’s called doing things.

Herb Kelle­her

The increas­ing com­plex­i­ty of the world can­not be tack­led with more analy­sis and more plan­ning. What is need­ed now is a fun­da­men­tal par­a­digm shift. It is now a ques­tion of acknowl­edg­ing this inher­ent uncer­tain­ty instead of negat­ing it and not con­fus­ing com­plex­i­ty with com­pli­cat­ed­ness. The appro­pri­ate response to com­plex­i­ty and uncer­tain­ty is not more and bet­ter analy­sis and plan­ning, but rather sail­ing by sight.

A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.

Grace Hop­per

Every jour­ney begins with a first step. Agili­ty hinges on the courage to take this first step with­out com­plete knowl­edge of the prob­lem and solu­tion domain. To imple­ment a planned and fixed back­log of require­ments in sprints is also some­how nice (and in Ger­man we have the say­ing that, nice is the lit­tle sis­ter of shit). But this has noth­ing to do with agili­ty, it is car­go cult at its best.

If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca 

Nonethe­less, agili­ty does not mean chaos or a lack of plan­ning. On the con­trary, agili­ty requires clear ori­en­ta­tion. Sail­ing by sight only works with a reli­able com­pass. Agile com­pa­nies do not try to ful­ly under­stand the prob­lem and the solu­tion, but rather ask them­selves again from iter­a­tion to iter­a­tion what they can do here and now to devel­op the prod­uct a lit­tle fur­ther. But it must be clear to every­one at all times in which direc­tion this fur­ther lies?

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Chris Philpott 29. January 2019 Reply

Hi Mar­cus,
I always enjoy your blogs and would love to buy you a cof­fee, but you are in the ITZ and I am in the UK and the trav­el restric­tions apply.
A quote you may already know but rings true for this blog;

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gath­er wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and end­less sea.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry — French Poet and Aviator


Marcus Raitner 29. January 2019 Reply

Thanks a lot, Chris! Your appre­ci­a­tion real­ly made my day. And per­haps we will have a chance to have cof­fee togeth­er in the future. 

And thanks for remind­ing me of this great quote of Saint-Exupéry. In fact I recent­ly used it in this post Pur­pose over Profit.

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