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When You Learn Faster, You Go Faster, But It Takes Time

carraceSpeed. It’s a frequent topic among software development teams. How fast can the team deliver product X? Can the team cut a few weeks off the development schedule? If the team switches from waterfall to Scrum, how much time will be saved on the delivery schedule?

Those are all the wrong questions though they are being asked for the right reasons. Businesses are trying to move faster simply because their competitors and customers are moving faster. To move faster, businesses need everyone to step it up and get their jobs done faster. So what about it? Will Scrum get you to market faster or not?

Not So Fast!

Let’s consider a situation where speed is an area of intense focus — auto racing. Does the fastest car always win the race? The fastest car wins the qualifying rounds and gets the pole position — the best spot at the head of the field on race day. So there is an advantage to being fastest, but does the fastest car win the race?

Clearly the winning car finishes the race faster than anyone else. Therefore by definition, the fastest car wins. However, the car that qualified fastest and won the pole position usually doesn’t win. In fact, pole sitters win much less than 50% of the time and, depending on the type of auto racing, less than 20% of the time.

How Can the Fastest Car Not Win?

Lots of things need to go right for a car to win. Yet one wrong move can lose a race. So it’s not simply a matter of being fast. The driver and the pit crew need to synchronize and work together to keep the car running for the entire race. They need to plan ahead yet be ready to respond to unexpected events on the track or in the pit area.

The team that executes best is likely to win even if the car doesn’t establish the fastest lap times. That’s because pit stop strategy and pit times are critically important. As is the driver’s ability to avoid trouble on the track and drive a clean race. Slow and steady isn’t a winning strategy but neither is fast and furious.

Okay, But Is Scrum Faster Than Waterfall?

Back to the original question — in the long run, yes, I firmly believe that Scrum is faster. I say “in the long run”, because it takes several sprints for teams to gel and become good at Scrum practices. It takes even longer for enterprise organizations to learn how to support the Scrum approach. It’s not easy.

Scrum will appear to deliver faster results early on because the team will deliver working software sooner. The software won’t be complete and it may not be elegant, but it will perform useful functions. Real business people will be able to get their hands on the system giving the appearance of rapid progress. That’s good!

The real business value in delivering early and often is rapid learning. The development team will receive feedback from the business community and everyone will learn faster. When you learn faster, you can go faster — but it takes time.

Will Scrum deliver faster results for your organization? Yes it will — if your company embraces change, demonstrates a willingness to accept small failures, and is willing to be patient.

photo credit: Darryl W. Moran Photography via photopin cc

Updated: August 6, 2013 — 10:13 pm
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