Skunk Work Is Not A Longterm Solution

In her "The Agile/Waterfall Cooperative (pdf)" presentation Michele Sliger summaries three modes in which agile team can work in a waterfall organization; SWAT team, Skunk Work, and stealth agile. I agree that applying just some agile practices can benefit your work. This is pretty much what we are doing at the moment, but I do not see this as sufficient long term solution - if it is only in team's sphere or just above. All three forms of team work can of course be used. SWAT teams can go parallel even in more wide spread agile organization. Skunk work probably, and hopefully, always exists in large organization - it's fun. If you are working as stealth agile, and avoiding radars by not communicating to the top management, you are not going to be able to fully harness the power. You need to inform top management that you are doing things differently and communicate your need for changes. They probably will not get it, but what they do get - is success. So it is fine and in most cases necessary to fly low at first, but after certain point it is not satisfying anymore to work as a shadow system, because you know you are constrained by the legitimacy structures, and these structures are holding back you and your learning.

The rest of the presentation has also good ideas, and based on my experience these ideas hold in reality as well.

SWAT team – outside the domain of the process police, brought in on projects that are in trouble. Agility is prized in this situation. They take over however – they don’t work in a cooperative mode.

Skunk Works - “a small group of experts who drop out of the mainstream company operations in order to develop some experimental technology or new application in secrecy or at speed, unhampered by bureaucracy or the strict application of regulations.” Sanctioned and protected by management, these teams are rare. This formation however, prevents the headaches involved in org structure, project approval hoops, portfolio metrics and management, budget calls, and other bureaucratic nightmares.

Stealth Agile – As Jim Highsmith once said in response to a question about how to sell agile to upper management – don’t. “They don’t know what you’re doing anyway.” Do as much agile as you can where you can. Some benefit is better than none at all.

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