Recently I have forced myself to finish reading Breath History of Time by Steven Hawking. Even though, it was advertised as a book for people who have no background in physics, I find it extremely difficult to read. Why is it worth trying? There is no relevant reason behind. The ideas of modern physics sound very sophisticated and I wanted to be one of those who can hold a conversation around that. I had no chance to try my new “skills” yet but reading this book I found myself in philosophical dilemma and it was not about the physics.
I use analogies to understand a new field. If you ever tried to read something scientific that is out of your usual interest you will understand me saying that while reading I was able to plan my weekend or decide what I will take for dinner. I was not expecting that my brains will choose to multitask while reading a book of most inspiring modern physicist. So, I decided to make the problems of modern physics more relevant to me by trying to compare them to issues we are facing in management practices. I am not saying that management practices are as sophisticated as physics, but this exercise reminded me the old question of model approximation.
Few years back there was especially popular topic: Lean vs. Agile. Both are methodologies of self-organizing teams. But which is better? It is funny how the judgement depends on the one who makes the comparison: Lean Belt or Scrum Master. Surprisingly both of the sides agree that organizations would be better off applying both methodologies. The only question is how?
Similarly, in physics there is a goal to create a framework that fully explains the Universe. The Theory of Everything is most questionable problem in physics. Today we have two models that, together, are very close to Theory of Everything. The only tiny problem is that they are mutually incompatible. General Relativity describes macro level forces of the Universe and Quantum Mechanics focuses on sub-atomic level. That tiny problem of incompatibility appears as different outcomes to the problem depending which model you will apply. An example would be with a question: what happens to objects when they fall into a black hole? One of the model states that object should vanish, and other states that at least some remaining should be left. (Why is General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics Incompatible?)
Imagine software development team. Usually they have endless flow of tasks, bugs, and features related to one project. Team concerns only about two things: deadlines and customer satisfaction. Maintain those and you will gain peaceful professional life. To meet expectations softwere development team should be quick and come up with simple solutions. If you are part of such team, Agile is the answer. It teaches you to plan in short iterations, deliver value in small batches. You are encouraged to collect instant feedback and colaborate with your customers. In other words, start from simple tangeble feature and let that to develop according Darvin‘s Theory. You never know to what creature it will evolve.
If you are Product Manager, you are concerned about product profitability and customer satisfaction. Good luck! Product Life Cycle lets you to enjoy them both only limited period of time. After that you have to be a ninja and find balance between costs and customer satisfaction. LEAN could be a solution as you will be able to visualize value stream, identify costs reduction opportunities and even keep customer happy providing less. The secret to success is system view– everything is related and has a concequence in other process phases. Constant audit and improvement of the process is key to success in finding the balance.
Even though AGILE and LEAN share the same motivation, the mindset behind is different. As in the example of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, both explain the Universe but from contrasting perspectives. Similarly, management methodologies describe methods only for a definite environment. The environment dictates the mindset. Let us apply the same exercise as we had with a black hole! The question is “How we should respond to the defect?”. Software development team working in AGILE framework would say “We should estimate, prioritize, and fix the defect”. Project Manager who applies LEAN would encourage to find what has caused the defect and when to eliminate the cause.
This exercise encourages us to admit that there is no answer to question which methodology is better. I know not everyone will agree with me, but due to different mindsets mentioned methodologies have tendency to be less compatible and it means there is no perfect universal solution. Nevertheless, we are still searching for something that would connect AGILE and LEAN to one unified Methodology for Everything. Why? The answer is very simple. LEAN lacks speed and AGILE – scalability. So, it is logical assumption that if we would merge them, we potentially could get all we need: quality, scalability, and speed.
Maybe statement “AGILE and LEAN have tendency to be less compatible” is too strong. There are several working examples that proves my statement is wrong, like SAFe, DevOps, and LEAN Startup. But I am one hundred percent sure that none of the mentioned could be titled the Methodology for Everything. And there is one common thing about all those. They were invented by adding one or another bit from AGILE or LEAN or GOD knows what to get something that should work, again, for a definite environment. This is good and bad news! Variety of methods enable us to choose the right one that suits specific situation. If there is no such one, it is not forbidden to try customization. However, be aware of complex modifications, they are as Frankenstein, clumsy, eroding, and slow. Good and working method will never be universal and fully resonate reallity, because of approximations we must accept for the sake of adoption.
So how about the Universe? Seems that the Universe also is too complex to describe it in a formula. Steven Hawking in one of his lectures had admitted – “Some people will be very disappointed if there is not an ultimate theory, that can be formulated as a finite number of principles. […] I’m now glad […] that we will always have the challenge of new discovery.”(Steven Hawking lecture “Gödel and the End of Physics”)