Agile Insights From a Couple of Combat Pilots...

April 29, 2011

The Inspiration for the Burndown Chart
Believe it or not, the inspiration for the Burndown Chart originated from Jeff Sutherland’s experience as a pilot in Vietnam. The corollary to software projects is that, as Jeff says, “Bad things are always happening. Things are breaking. People get sick. Software doesn’t do what you think it would do. There are issues with the hardware. There’s always something every day that’s trying to take your project down.”

Landing an airplane is a great metaphor. “Teams need to learn how to land that sprint.” Jeff says. With airplanes, questions such as, “How high are you? How fast are you going? Is there a wind?” need to be answered – Keeping everything balanced at once is essential to achieve a successful landing.

With software projects, Jeff states that there are four critical items to balance:

  • Velocity
  • Quality
  • Sustainable pace
  • Are teams executing the right things on the backlog?
Watch this short video to learn more.

Colonel Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act Decision Model
While most of us involved in Agile development aren't likely to be locked in mortal combat, an interesting Agile perspective is provided in the paper, What Lessons Can the Agile Community Learn from A Maverick Fighter Pilot? by Steve Adolph.

The paper discusses US Air Force Colonel John Boyd’s air-to air combat theories and how they apply to Agile development. For example, Colonel Boyd argues that to win in a competitive environment you must operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than your adversary. Or, as he explains it, to get inside the adversary's Observation Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) time cycle.

Agility, as Colonel Boyd defines it, is the ability to operate the Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) loop faster than an adversary. As a consequence, Agility depends on the tempo at which you can exploit the OODA loop, and it is culture, not methodologies or tools that determine your OODA loop speed. Well said!