May 4, 2009

Writing about agile while confined to avoid getting Swine Flu

Arrived to Mexico City on business last April 27 just two hours short of the WHO’s request to close Mexico's borders due to the swine flu. Not surprising, this has been the less productive of all my business trips: For example my last 10-day trip included 12 meetings and 3 presentations. This 14-day trip I ended up with lots of cancelations and so far have had 3 meetings and if nothing else is cancelled will have one meeting and one presentation before returning to the USA in six days. I even got to experience no traffic in Mexico City, wow! Better be safe than sorry, right? Streets are empty and remind me of a scene from the Spanish movie "Abre Los Ojos", remade as "Vanilla Sky" in English. Fortunately, I am staying at a very safe place, away from public contact and have been feeling as well as usual.

On the bright side, this has given me time to take some rest and do some writing, including an article on agile, standards, and models to be published on the Software Guru magazine this summer, and preparing some more training materials.

Mexico City traffic, vendors and self-organization

Everybody who has ever visited Mexico City for sure remembers the traffic. Think New York City traffic is bad? ...think again! A few decades ago the expressways and highways, although small for USA standards, were fast and a joy to ride. Nowadays traffic is so bad that on a recent day while stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Viaducto (an expressway) I saw locals walking in between lanes selling all sorts of things, from sodas to cigarettes, chewing gum, fruit, etc.; they even had banners posted on the expressway’s walls announcing products and prices.

What amazed me the most was how efficient those people were. Keeping an eye on which lanes were moving more slowly to shift from one to the other so maximize the chances of making a sale. Monitoring the overall traffic to determine if they should step aside for a few minutes or stay put and increase sales. They are also distributed along the road so that each person has a “reasonable number of customers”. They knew intuitively that it was better to disperse along the road when cars where moving at a slow steady pace, and to get closer together but in between different lanes when cars were barely moving. I was amazed by the efficiency of their self-organization.

I started thinking about how I’ve seen development teams be less efficient when they are being managed, thus waiting for a decision-maker to come and order changes, and how much more efficient they become when they self-organize. It is better to identify the demands of task-at-hand, assess the situation, determine a course of action, and act.