The Complete Works of Shakespeare

A picture of the complete works of shakespeare

Organizations both large and small are keenly aware of the challenges created by wickedly complex problems and the accelerated rate of technological change. Our largest and most successful corporations are continually experimenting with new process frameworks to foster innovation and restructure operations.

Most of our large software technology clients execute a traditional Bureaucratic process they call Waterfall. In addition, they are experimenting with a new process they call Agile.

“How many Waterfall and Agile projects do you do a year?” I asked a manager at one of these companies.

“Each year we deliver around two hundred projects,” he replied “not counting small modifications.”

“And what’s your average project cost for all of the projects?” I asked.

“About one million dollars each,” he answered.

Smart, I said to myself, and given their self-reported success rate was over 99%, I was not surprised they had already discovered that the smaller the budget the easier it is to deliver successfully and to successfully hide failure.

“How many pages of documentation does a team create on average for a typical sized Waterfall project?” I asked, wanting to understand just how big the Bureaucrat influence was on their Waterfall initiatives.

“I don’t really know,” he replied. “We keep them all in a shared drive for the auditors so you can look for yourself.”

Not being a fan of keeping information hidden inside of shared drives I asked, “Can we print a set of the documentation you created while delivering an Agile and a Waterfall project?”

I elaborated that both projects should be considered successful, and as close as possible to the same size, budget, staffing, and duration.

“No problem,” he said, “I will assign somebody to do that for us.”

A few days later I received a call. “Are you sure you really want us to print all of the Waterfall project documents? The people doing the work wanted to make sure they should really be doing it?”

“What’s is their concern?”

“It is an awful lot of pages to print.”

“Well you do have a very thorough process.” I observed, “And you are spending a lot of money creating all of those documents. I think it will be O.K. to print them just this once.”

“Alright.” was his hesitant reply.

Later that week I received another call. “You have to come over to my office,” he said, “You’re not going to believe this.”

I headed right over. As I entered his office I noticed three stacks of documents sitting on a table, two of the stacks were three and a half feet tall and the third third stack was a little over a foot.

“That is a lot of paper!” I exclaimed. “So what are the two tall stacks?”

“That is just the one Waterfall project.” he replied, “We didn’t stack them in one pile because we were afraid they might fall over and hurt someone.”

I laughed and asked “So what is the small stack?”

“That’s the Agile project,” he said happily.

“And these projects are about the same cost, size, staff, and duration?” I inquired.

“Absolutely, they are even similar problems,” he proclaimed. Pointing at the small stack he added, “The Agileproject cost about forty thousand dollars more but both were just over one million dollars and both were completed successfully in about six months.”

I nodded, and began thumbing my way through the documents at the top of a Waterfall stack wondering what could they could possibly say.

“Look at how good our Agile project is!” he said happily.

“Yes.” I replied to his observation. I was silent for a few moments trying to figure out how to say nicely that that a foot-tall stack of documents for the Agile project was probably still not what we wanted. I decided on analogy.

“You know,” I observed, “A foot tall stack of documents is probably about the number of words in the complete works of Shakespeare. So we wrote the complete works of Shakespeare seven times to complete our Waterfrall project and once to complete our Agile project.”

I think the meaning was lost on him. “We need a picture.” he said, “We need to show off what a great job we are doing of being Agile!”

I sighed. The subtext of my message didn’t fully connect but I had to admit that writing the complete works of Shakespeare once was a win over writing them seven times.

Something is terribly wrong with how large corporations are implementing Agile. I just had to figure out what was going wrong, why, and how to fix it.

Of course, I gave the problem to my team.

Why can't organizations settle on a process? Bureaucrat worked extremely well for large organizations from time immemorial up to the end of the 20th century. Although the complexity lion makes it very difficult to build good plans, in a slower moving world we can take the planning time required and…
Previously we told the story of a big organization executing a Bureaucrat process to create a new innovative product. Their process included tens of millions of dollars worth of planning and execution and it delivered a good product to the market at a competitive price. Had it been the 1950s…

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