Aug 172009

“Be quick, but don’t hurry,” is a famous quote from John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach of UCLA. In other words, do the right things, but learn how to do them quickly. Author Andrew Hill recounting his playing days with Wooden, says, “Life, like basketball, must be played fast–but never out of control.” In product development, lack of quickness results in competitive disadvantage, while hurrying causes mistakes. Balance is one of the keys to agility. “Wooden’s genius was in helping his players find and maintain that razor’s edge between quickness and hurrying,” says Hill.

The epitome of competitiveness is forcing your competition to hurry. Your team can turn out a new product in 9 months–they are fast, but they don’t hurry. They balance on the edge, fast, but not too fast. Through experience, knowledge, and skill, they know what pace they can sustain and turn out a high-quality product. A competitor looks at your 9 month development cycle time and says, “we can do that.” But they can’t–they don’t have the knowledge, skill, or discipline. Management forces their team into hurrying–into trying to keep up a pace that they really can’t sustain. They hurry. They make mistakes. They fall short in feature implementations. They cut corners on testing and refactoring.

Sports teams are constantly trying to get the competition to play “their” game. A fast-break basketball team tries to force the competitors into running up and down the court–forcing them into playing a game they aren’t comfortable with–forcing them to hurry, forcing them into errors because they are playing over the edge instead of on the edge.

“Agility is the ability to both create and respond to change in order to profit in a turbulent business environment.” Of these two aspects of agility, creating change is the most powerful. Creating change for competitors throws then off balance. Going into new markets, cutting prices, reducing development cycle times, improving product quality all impact competitors–they are changes that they must respond to, or fall further behind. The company in front, the one creating the changes as opposed to responding to the changes, has a leg up on competitors. The winners are quick. The also-rans are forced into hurrying.

Agile project management and software development are about exploration, innovation, accelerating development speed, and quality. They are about being quick, but not hurrying.


Jim Highsmith

Jim Highsmith was the founding director of Cutter Consortium's Agile Product & Project Management practice.


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