Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Agile 'Pit Crew' Process

For all the big company focus on process improvements, it now seems that the term process is somewhat of a dirty word in small companies or startups who are focused on speed to market. Process, like everything, if it is overdone, it can be harmful and actually impede the very thing it was meant to improve. Too much and you become buried in trying to follow a set of steps, and checklists instead of accomplishing goals and fulfilling customer needs. Too little and you stagnate in chaos. Both lead to unhappy endings.

This got me thinking about the right amount of process in small company or start up (or perhaps any company for that matter). The analogy that came to mind was that of a formula 1 or Nascar pit crew. Pit crews have a series of tasks that must be carried out and others that are option depending on the condition of the car when it arrives. All have to be done quickly. Although it seems chaotic, there is process there, and great pit crews work like a finely tuned orchestra. Process is why the car doesn't get dropped without the wheel nuts on.

So even with a start up - some process is important. We have come to know this as Agile. Unfortunately some people thing that Agile is a throwback to to uncontrolled chaos before there was any process. Agile process at its best is finely tuned chaos that produces beautiful music. The key to fast process is to think not about documented steps and checklists, but about 3 things. The first two are frameworks and guidelines. The third and primary ingredient is skilled team members. Just like most of us would kill the process of a pit crew - so can ineffective members on any team. These 3 things supported by the right mindset, can allow process to become a powerful asset no matter how small (or big) you are if used appropriately.

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