Minimum skills for running a country, a company, a team?

On my way to work today I heard that the Swedish government demands that meteorologists increase the precision of their weather forecasts to 85%. Have they heard about the butterfly effect? Are knowledge about complexity theory and chaotic systems optional for running a country? One would hope not! How about for running a business? A department? A team? Managing a product line? A development project?

Right after that a reporter confronted an analyst: How could you be so wrong to predict +20% for the stock market? It is now -20%!

Predictability makes us feel all safe and warm, but it is also an illusion that makes us badly equipped to deal with the complexity and chaos of reality.

Groups, organizations, countries, development projects and the weather are complex/chaotic systems. Minimal changes in any of a vast number of factors can cause huge and completely unexpected, unpredictable change. It takes courage to get out of your comfort zone and accept this. When you do, you can start really applying Scrum/agile.

Step one is to get transparency in place. When working in complex/chaotic environments, we cannot accurately predict the future. What we can do is to make sure we can assess the reality of today. What is the current true situation? Sunny? Raining? If you don’t have any windows, you may need to fix this first to enable transparency. When we have accurate information, we can make optimal decisions. Lets go to the beach! Lets do that picnic in the living room instead!

For software development, transparency means starting to do one thing at a time and getting transparent about how many features have we really finished. I mean really finished, with no work remaining. Ready to deliver, approved by customers, no work (“bugfixes”) postponed for the future. How many features, and at what rate are we completing them? Why focus on finished features? We do that to get better accuracy. Before we start developing a feature, its status is 0% done. When it is finished it is 100% done. In between those states, our guesses about work remaining is not that accurate.

When you get transparency in place you can start optimizing your results based on reality instead of giving in to your basic needs of feeling that the world is predictable. Product managers will actually have useful data to base their strategies on. Teams will be able to focus on stepwise implementations of continuously optimized and evolving product visions and roadmaps. Ironically, giving up the wish for predictability will give you greater control and produce results that exceed everyone’s expectations!

It is well known how to do this for software based development efforts by applying Scrum and other agile methods. That does not mean it is easy. And it takes courage. 85% of all organizations report that they are using elements of agile techniques, but very few have actually done what I talked about above. That means they have not addressed the main issue. It takes courage…

– Henrik

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