My talk at OpenScrum event at Pune, Sep 10. In this talk, I explore the idea of "marginal gains" in the context of agile development, and how scrum as a framework could be used to incrementally innovate.
Could aggregation of "marginal gains" lead to innovation?
Could aggregation of
How does a project
get to be a year
The Mythical Man-Month, 1975
…One day at a time!
The Mythical Man-Month
“…When one hears of disastrous
schedule slippage in a project, he
imagines that a series of major
calamities must have befallen it.
Usually, however, the disaster is due
to termites, not tornadoes; and the
schedule has slipped imperceptibly
…and neither was his!
If a day-by-day delay can
eventually hurt a project that
bad, can we also reverse it?
…maybe build something by
day-to-day, or an
Lorenz’s Butterﬂy Effect
1972: Does the
Flap of a
in Brazil Set Off a
can lead to big
• No British had ever won Tour de France till 2010.
Dave Brailsford, GM and Performance Director for
Team Sky, was asked to change that.
• Dave’s plan was to win in ﬁve years by optimising
every aspect of performance. But they did in 2.5y!
• Sir Bradley Wiggins became the ﬁrst British cyclist
to win Tour de France in 2012. Chris Froome won
Tour de France in 2013.
• British Cycling Team, also coached by Dave, won
70% of Gold Medals at 2012 London Olympics.
So, what did he do?
• “The whole principle came from the idea that if you
broke down everything you could think of that goes into
riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a
signiﬁcant increase when you put them all together”
• Started looking for “1% improvement”. In everything.
• Started with…nutrition of riders, weekly training program,
bike seat ergonomics, weight of tires, …and continued
with….pillows that offered best sleep, most effective
massage gels, even how best to wash hands to avoid
Aggregation of Marginal
The simple math behind it
that “compounds” it…
(0.99)^365 = 0.03
1%…same as Kaizen?
“…As an MBA, I had become fascinated
with Kaizen and other process-improvement
techniques. It struck me that we should think
small, not big, and adopt a philosophy of
continuous improvement through the
aggregation of marginal gains. Forget about
perfection; focus on progression, and
compound the improvements.”
Some famous examples…
• Toyota: 40 Years, 20 Million Ideas!
• Intuit’s SnapTax team iterated eight time in eight
• Dyson’s 5,127 Iterations over 5+ years
• Lexus LS400: 450 iterations and 900 engine
prototypes over 5+ years
MiG-15 vs. F-86s
• Colonel John Boyd was interested not just in any dogﬁghts, but speciﬁcally in dogﬁghts
between MiG-15s and F-86s. As an ex-pilot and accomplished aircraft designer, Boyd
knew both planes very well. He knew the MiG-15 was a better aircraft than the F-86.
The MiG-15 could climb faster than the F-86. The MiG-15 could turn faster than the
F-86. The MiG-15 had better distance visibility.
• The F-86 had two points in its favor. First, it had better side visibility. While the MiG-15
pilot could see further in front, the F-86 pilot could see slightly more on the sides.
Second, the F-86 had a hydraulic ﬂight control. The MiG-15 had a manual ﬂight control.
• The standing assumption on the part of airline designers was that maneuverability was
the key component of winning dogﬁghts. Clearly, the MiG-15, with its faster turning and
climbing ability, could outmaneuver the F-86.
• There was just one problem with all this. Even though the MiG-15 was considered a
superior aircraft by aircraft designers, the F-86 was favored by pilots. The reason it was
favored was simple: in one-on-one dogﬁghts with MiG-15s, the F-86 won nine times
out of ten.
Your scrum implementation should
be about “double-loop” of learning
Some “marginal gains” to try
in each sprint…
• reduce CI build speeds by 5 mins
• improve code coverage by 2%
• increase test automation on legacy code by 2%
• reduce tech debt by 5%
• cross-skill team members
• improve NPS / market-facing metrics by 1%
• Increase employee happiness by 5% :)
• Innovation requires a mindset of continuous improvisation:
progress over perfection.
• Agile way, and Scrum framework in particular, facilitates
iterative thinking that could be used effectively to
progressively eliminate the pain points (and track the
results to ensure that efforts are aligned to results!)
• Over time, such “aggregation of marginal gains” could
lead to a signiﬁcant innovation.
• Next time you want something big…try something small!