At the last BA Manager Forum event the subject of scaled agile and the BA role was discussed by a range of BA Practice leaders. The input to the session was provided by David Beckham (ex-Aviva BA and public speaker) using the striking analogy of Why Scaled Agile is like a Dead Whale. Read on for the detailed explanation….
It struck me whilst putting the slides together for the BA Manager Forum event*, that a dead whale was a good (if slightly eccentric) analogy for Scaled Agile. Let me explain my thinking….
Imagine our unfortunate subject - a deceased whale. Having shuffled off this mortal coil, this behemoth of the ocean slowly starts to sink to the bottom of the sea as it is acted upon by various processes that break it down into ever smaller parts. Initially sharks and possibly killer whales start the down-sizing and this continues with other smaller scavengers until all that remains drifting down to the ocean floor is small pieces of ex-whale. Those creatures at the bottom of the food-chain complete the re-cycling without even knowing what the original object was.
This is where I see the similarities between the deceased whale and a scaled agile project. Initially, the project has a Vision but this is too big for one team to handle and so the process begins whereby the vision is decomposed into smaller, more digestible chunks. While these chunks can be processed efficiently at each level of the project they fall into, those responsible for doing this may fail to understand the big picture envisaged in the original vision. In some cases, it may be argued that this doesn’t matter as efficiency and high-speed delivery are the major concerns. However, the potential disconnect from the vision may cause the ultimate investment objective to be at risk. The processors right at the bottom may be denied the opportunity to analyse their outputs against the ‘big picture’ because they have to be focused on ‘speed of delivery’ and the opportunity for creative thought may be constrained by ‘lack of time’. So, how do they know they’re doing the right thing and are supporting the achievement of the vision? Well, they don’t – their only option is to trust those further up the decomposition chain and not worry about it! Hmm, I don’t know about you but this doesn’t sound like typical BA behaviour to me. Furthermore, how can they be sure that the ultimate solution delivered by the project is suitable, ethical or even legal?
There is a significant challenge to the BA profession where business analysts work so far down the Agile food chain that their ability to use the skills and qualities that are vital to their role, such as inquisitiveness and problem-solving, is lost. In these situations, there is a real danger that business analysts shift from asking ‘what problem are we trying to solve?’ and become ‘user-story writers’ embedded within application-specific feature teams. If this is to be prevented, it is essential that business analysts keep surveying the levels of the food chain, ensure there is a focus on the vision and, as such, continue to challenge the rationale for the work they do. In short, BAs need to keep asking “why are we doing what we are doing?”.
*Slides from this presentation can be viewed at http://www.bamanagerforum.org/events/