Observations on Agile Development: Driving to the Train Station

September 8, 2014

By Steve Mezak

Observations_on_Agile_DevelopmentThe place: Lviv, Ukraine

The weather: a foot of snow and more accumulating.

The goal: getting myself and my partner, Andy, to the train station on time to catch our train to Minsk

The music: Livin’ La Vida Loca on the car radio from a local Lviv rock station (but under the circumstances, I didn’t mind - It gave the whole scene the feeling of a chase comedy)

The lesson: If you look for it you can find innovation, in driving as well as software development. 

We were chasing time. Andy and I were running incredibly late, with a foot of snow on the ground, and more steadily falling, Mother Nature wasn’t exactly facilitating our success. Our driver, Pavel, however, was. He is a senior C++ developer at our software development partner in Lviv and was recruited last minute by the marketing folks to drive us to the train station. He was “volunteered”, not because of his programming ability (of which I have no doubt) but because he drives a 4-wheel drive Toyota pickup truck with a crew cab. Nevertheless, Pavel set off on our journey with great cheerfulness, a sense of humor and the intensity needed to solve the most challenging programming problems. Every shortcut he knew, every driving trick he had in his arsenal, he used.           

“I know another way,” he said, turning the wrong way down a one-way street. The street was mercifully empty, both of traffic and people.

We got to the next block and turned right. That turned out to be the wrong move.          

“Well, this won’t work,” Pavel said, turning again at the first opportunity.

Yeah, we’re missing this train, I thought, but didn’t say anything as we swung down the one-way street for the second time. It was still empty (and we were still thankful).  

Pavel was making decisions fast, one block at a time. This street didn’t work? Take a different one. Left turn at this light impossible? Turn left at the next one. Wrong way down a one-way street the only way to get there? Do it! 

But Pavel also kept things light and cheery. On one of our detours he announced that we were about to pass the old KGB building. “My father used to say that this KGB building is the tallest building in Lviv. Even from the first floor you can see Siberia.” 

I would have been stunned when we pulled up to the station, but there wasn’t time. We made it. We literally had to run to catch our train, but we made it. 

Innovation in Motion 

We made it because Pavel had clearly understood our main goal, and broken it down into dozens of tiny goals that allowed him to be flexible and adaptive at each stage of the project.     

Sound familiar? That’s real innovation.

It got me thinking. Innovation is been called a management fad by some, but I don’t think so. I think it’s so natural you could almost call it universal. Pavel is a good developer, and so he’s accustomed to thinking in innovative ways, but the fact is that many of us do it regularly. We take a big problem and break it down into small steps, ready to accept success or failure on each one until final success is met. Each time Pavel tried a different direction, he absorbed the effectiveness of that solution and he was able to rapidly (and literally) change direction in response to the situation.

The Untapped Potential of Outsourced Software Developers

Across the globe, there are millions of software developers with instincts just like Pavel’s. They know how to break down, adapt, and innovate to accomplish a goal. By outsourcing your software development, you tap into a whole new world of talent, innovation, and out-of-the-box thinking that’s thinking around a completely new box. Because sometimes you just need developers who will go the wrong way down a one-way street.

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