Whether you’re fan of the genre or not, you must’ve seen a war movie sometime in your history. One in which a group of Commandos, Marines or just regular grunts was set to fight against masses of vicious foes. So imagine this setting: a small squad, not even a dozen of people, sets of to extract a high value individual (or, in civilian vernacular – capture a very important enemy). They have to make it in time (e.g. before their target leaves), they have a detailed plan on how to do it, they know why their success is vital. Along the way, they suddenly get ambushed. Obviously, their plan is no longer valid – at all. Then, they decide to retreat to base. Then you see final credits rolling across the screen. And then, you have to leave the cinema.
My prediction is, such movie would hardly be a blockbuster. More like a total bust. Even the script itself would feel wrong. Brave soldiers retreating from vital mission after a single mishap? That doesn’t feel right.
There are many parables between how Agile teams are organized and the military. We have little squads, specialized in doing what’s expected of them and given a high degree of autonomy in achieving the goal. It’s little surprise, considering that among stepfathers of the whole movement are people who served their time in actual wars, including Vietnam. Quite a lot of concepts typical to modern special forces are what – even though not literally mentioned – is expected from our teams. Take the Marines adage for example: “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome”. That’s how they do their business, that’s how we want our “6 plus minus 3” teams to do our business. It seems obvious, right?
Taking this angle, it’s amazing how many teams don’t feel this one. We seem to misunderstand the scope of a backlog item? Let's just do it how we think it should be. Done! Automated builds are down? Let’s play foosball then. Done! Our squad got ambushed along the way? Let’s get back to base. Done!
There’s always another way. We can do things differently. We can negotiate priorities. We can just sit by our desks and build this damn thing manually. In our movie script, we can – and, in the military, will – continue on foot, or get reinforcements, or call an airstrike.
Don’t get me wrong. There are things able to actually devastate whatever we’re doing, in every business. Though in real life, especially civilian life, it’s beyond unthinkable. Remember, the strength of character, be it of individual or a team, is measured by one thing – how far will we go before we give up.
Or, will we ever give up.