An Agile Airplane?

Agile is typically considered an approach to software development, but the principles of Agile are more universal than we often consider.

Boeing delivered its first 787 with GE engines in March, 2012 – six months after it delivered the first 787 with Rolls Royce engines to All Nippon Air Lines.  A separate release of a similar product isn’t really a new idea, but it is an application of an Agile principle: deliver value quickly. By delivering one version of the 787 before the other version was ready, Boeing made an effort to de-couple these two development efforts and get one into the market sooner.

Alan Shalloway is an accomplished author and consultant who has been part of the community that pioneered the Agile approach to software development.  In his book, Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility, Alan makes a key distinction for anyone who wants to be a real agile developer: 

Principles must be understood differently than practices.  Principles are universal. Practices have specific applications. 

His key point, of course, is that we can learn practices (or techniques), such as Daily Stand-Ups and Sprint Planning.  But to be truly innovative, and truly agile, we must understand the principles upon which these techniques are based. 

That’s pretty good advice for learning anything really.  Learn the underlying principles and you’ll not only master the techniques, but be able to customize them to your situation.

Alan's insights started me down a new road of inquiry.  Now I’m looking for more Agile software development and Lean Manufacturing principles in my reading and as I see project teams in action . That paid off recently for a client who was putting together a complex project plan.  They weren’t building software, but as I listened to them describe their challenges, it became clear that they could apply a Sprint and Scrum approach to managing their projects.  The result is a much simpler plan that flexes with the variability of their project.

So what new principles are you learning?  I’d love to hear about them.

P.S. Alan’s grasp of Agile software development is clearly driven by a mastery of the principles, including how to apply Lean Manufacturing concepts to software development.  That’s why it was a thrill for me to have Alan contribute a significant introduction to Agile in the most recent edition of the Fast Forward MBA in Project Management, which released in December.  Alan started with the key principles, then added some example practices.