I watch my fair share of TV shows that surround real-world business and projects. I’ve noticed a theme that I want to share to see if you see it the way I do. So here are a few examples:
Fast ‘n Loud is a show on Discovery Channel here in the US. It’s about a garage that takes in “needy” cars and refurbishes them for resale.
The owner of Gas Monkey Garage is Richard Rawlings. In the episodes he generally is scouring the countryside for fixer upper cars that have up-side profit potential.
The cameras usually follow him on these excursions as he finds, negotiates the price, and returns these “opportunities” to the garage.
Whenever he purchases a car, he comes up with a mental model for (1) what work needs to occur for it to become re-sellable and (2) how much time it will take for his team to do that work. Usually his estimates are built on a quick look and cursory inspection of the car.
What’s interesting is this. He assumes that his estimate is fixed and bases the entire ROI of the car on this project time. Inevitably he is wrong and he discovers this once his crew starts to work on each car. There are always surprises that lead to cost and schedule overruns.
What’s even more interesting is that this ALWAYS happens for each and every car. You would think he’d learn to ask his team before focusing in on the plan. But no, he repeats the pattern and always places undue pressure on his team members to “suck it up” and get it done “on time”.
Flip or Flop is a show on HGTV. The husband and wife duo of Tarik and Christina run a real estate business where they “flip” distressed properties for profit. Quite often, they have very little time to evaluate the property before they have to put a bid/offer in. Sometimes the offers are even as-is or sight unseen.
Each episode begins with the find/bidding process. Usually Tarik takes the lead here while Christine looks for comp properties helping them to understand profit potential.
Tarik will often call in a contractor to help with the bid. You can see them walking through the house and coming up with a very minimal cost (incredibly optimistic) bid. That is ALWAYS the case and they never build in contingencies.
You can tell what’s coming…
In every episode there are unexpected discoveries that need fixing. Often they blow the budget up. And much of the show revolves around Tarek and Christina complaining about the budget overruns and worrying about making a profit.
In all of the shows I’ve seen, they’ve never failed to make a profit. But you wouldn’t know that from all of the drama. I guess that’s what makes it a successful show.
But the point is, nothing ever stops them from making a more risk tolerant plan and going into each home with a more balanced view towards profit potential. You’d think they’d learn by now…
So, Bob. What does all of this have to do with agile software development? Glad you asked my friend.
The key learning points are 3-fold:
- In both shows they are NOT learning from their mistakes. I know that makes for great TV, but in the real world we should be focusing on reflection and continuous learning. I have a pet peeve when it comes to agile teams – failing once in a particularly way is fine. Failing again, in that same way, is essentially intolerable.
- In both shows, they are NOT planning well. Sure, they feel very “agile” in their planning, but the plans are inherently flawed and lead to poor execution, rushing, and lots of waste. What’s even more interesting is that in both cases the planners “feel like” their plans are solid and are SHOCKED when things go awry. I’m frankly SHOCKED that their shocked.
- In the case of Fast ‘N Loud, Richard should get his team engaged BEFORE he fixes on a repair plan with profit assumptions. I’ll bet a quick “review” of each car by the very folks who he’ll be asking to fix it, would lead to a much better and real-world estimates AND improve his ROI decision-making.
And while this lack of learning and repetitive mistakes makes for good TV, in the real world, there’s really no excuse for it.
Yet, I see organizations and leaders making these same repetitive mistakes making software products.
I think ego also comes into play on the TV shows. I wonder if that happens in organizations as well?
So what are the key points for this article?
- Plan projects WITH your teams; and
- Learn from your mistakes, so that future plans improve; and
- Honor your people by committing to realistic estimates, plans, and commitments.
Now I’ve got to get back to my favorite chair, remote, and my TV…
Stay agile my friends,