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Fifteen Thousand Percent

How Would You Like a 15000% Productivity Gain in Your Software Development Project? 

The title of Jeff Sutherland’s latest book, "Scrum: Twice the Work in half the time" suggests Scrum can quadruple your productivity. I think he’s right – and, I think FAST Agile can do even better than that – by orders of magnitude!

A True Story: Open Space, AT&T and the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Global Village

Part I – The Problem (taken from the book Wave Rider by Harrison Owen)

AT&T won a bid for a structure to be built in the Olympic Global Village - Atlanta 1996. Their bid had not won them a prime location but they did the best with what they had and spent 10 months in planning and designing a structure. But before they had started building, they had a late opportunity to take a prime location in the centre of the village rather than the outskirts – with the promise of higher foot traffic. But to accept this offer would mean scrapping their existing plans.

They did accept the offer of a better location but were now faced with the challenge/problem of having a window of only 7 months to both design and construct a new larger structure. To achieve this would require a huge increase in productivity - a minor miracle in fact. Remember, the design phase of the previous structure took 10 months and now they had to not only design, but also construct, a larger structure than the original and only had 7 months to do it in.

Part II - The Miracle

The design team were invited to a two day meeting outside of New York City. A two day Open Space.

Fast forward to the end of the two days (which were described as tumultuous) - and new design had been created. Not only was it completed in just two days, it also represented a vast improvement over its predecessor and they were actually further ahead in implementation than they had been with the old design. While they were working in New York, they were glued to their mobile phones, ordering up supplies and materials for the job.

Starting with a blank sheet of paper, and ending with working architectural drawings, a $2000,000,000 structure was designed and work started in the space of two days! The group had managed to do in two days what they knew, on the basis of prior experience, would take 10 months. Figuring roughly, this comes down to a 15,000% increase in productivity, and the executive responsible described the outcome as "magic".


Applying OST to Software Development - FAST Agile

FAST Agile™ is a methodology for harnessing the power of OST (among other existing practices) and applying it to the challenge of creating software at scale. What do I mean by scale? Anything from two scrum teams pulling from one backlog and upwards in complexity is agile software delivery at scale.

Rather than follow a systems thinking and design approach that other efforts in scaling agile have done, FAST Agile tries to apply an approach used in all successful Complex Adaptive Systems i.e.  rely on self-organization. FAST Agile differs vastly to the Scrum model used by the other scaling methods and uses a paradigm of dynamic teams and just in time architectural decisions.

Not that Scrum can’t work or that there is anything wrong with using Scrum. Particularly if it is already working for you. With a single team and single backlog, Scrum can work particularly well.  (FAST Agile can be used in place of Scrum on the small scale as well as a method for large scale development.)

While FAST Agile can’t promise a 15000% productivity increase similar to the AT&T Olympic Village Structure example above, my hunch is that it will far exceed Scrum’s 400% by orders of magnitude.

Ron Quartel - 16 July 2015