The Pursuit of True Agility

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Common Aspects of Performance

Jazz musicians are not the only practitioners of agility. Compare teams in four distinctly different domains—jazz, basketball, software development, and military special operations.

  • Continuous integration—Each team must constantly combine and resolve individual, unique contributions.
  • Synergy—A lone basketball or solo musical performance is not so interesting, but when everyone on a basketball team or in a jazz band plays his or her part at the same time, the combined result can be compelling.
  • Feedback—Team members must be open to responses from collaborators, consumers, and competitors and must adjust their preceding actions accordingly.
  • Quality—There is low tolerance for mistakes or bugs. Even a single mistake at the wrong time can ruin an otherwise perfect performance.
  • On-time delivery—Each team must begin its activity at a previously agreed on and publicised time. No matter what happens, the show must go on.
  • In-time execution—Each team must deliver in real-time without stopping or slowing down to the point where it misses previously agreed on synchronization checkpoints.

Ultimately, each team is expected to perform. While powerful tools, the latest technology, detailed processes, and best practices can help achieve high performance, they are secondary to talented people guided by the right principles. Although each activity requires domain-specific expertise, such as playing an instrument, handling a ball, or writing code, they share common aspects of performance.

Shared terms in how a team is organized include:

  • Scale–At one end there is solo performance and at the other is mass collaboration.
  • Proficiency—How skilled are the members of the team?
  • Composition—Do all the team members have similar skills, experience, and perspectives, or is there diversity?
  • Leadership—Are the responsibilities of initiative limited to a few or even just one dictator, or does everyone have autonomy to lead?
  • Cohesion—How unified is the team?

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