As a concerned American, I read David Brin’s recent article about the differences in how Democrats and Republicans wage war with interest. It’s well-written and worth careful consideration. He posits that since Reagan, the Democratic strategy of limited, targeted involvement is more effective than the all-in Republican one. He wrote the article to refute claims that the Democrats are “soft” on war.
As a proponent of agile delivery methodologies, I saw another parallel. His description of the approaches reminds me of comparisons made between agile delivery and traditional delivery methods. In the article, Brin echoes interviews with retired generals and admirals that on the whole, Democratic presidents readily admit their ignorance on how to wage war and their readiness to collaborate with military experts. By contrast, Republican presidents formulate battle plans and expect the military to implement them.
I see these two approaches to project delivery in my line of work. Agile project managers – product owners – seek collaboration with their delivery teams. They advocate for the needs of the customer and are open to formulating a plan together.
Other project managers, ones I’ve come to envision with a John Wayne attitude and a PMP, fashion specifications and expect teams to implement them, which works with varying degrees of success depending on the technical prowess of the project manager. Seldom does the latter approach work; seldom does the former approach fail. I find that when agile projects fail, it’s in implementation more often than in poor design.
As the article attests, there are edge cases in the Democratic approach, just as there are with the agile one. One of the best project managers I’ve worked with had a PMP and loved to collaborate with developers.
If this comparison between agile and politics is apt, does this imply that we will see a paradigm shift in politics as we have in business as agile methods gain traction and traditional delivery techniques flounder in the face of rapid change?
One challenge an agile government would face is working in an environment that is very resistant to change: public opinion. The American people are very intolerant of change. Although the economy is shaky and many people see their fortunes waning, attempts to reform campaign finance, healthcare, and social conventions are met with staunch resistance. And yet it seems clear to me that, in Game of Thrones parlance, winter is coming.
Somehow we the American people need to come together, collaborate, and innovate a creative solution to the problems facing our nation. We need to foster a safe to fail environment where ideas can be tried and honed. Otherwise, we are entrusting our well-being and that of our descendants on the very few decision makers.
I pray that we will begin this work very soon. We can’t afford to ignore the agile revolution in delivery methods much longer, especially in an institution as important as our government.
Tech note: I wrote this at lunch on my iPhone using a Bluetooth keyboard. It’s a brave new world. Feedback is welcome.