Saturday, September 24, 2005

Quantum Agility and Organizational Gravity

Just a random synapse firing in my brain ... I remember back in my high school days being enthralled with physics and the latest grand-unified theories (GUTS), and how gravity was always the "odd ball" in trying to unify the four fundamental forces of nature into a single, simple, consistent and coherent theory:
  • Quantum mechanics could unify all but gravity. It was great, and incredibly accurate at explaining all the rich and myriad interactions of things at the molecular, atomic and subatomic levels.

  • But throw in celestial bodies and large distances, and the thing called "gravity" rears its ugly head and makes things complicated. In theory it's nowhere near as strong as the other forces, and yet any time you had to scale up to things large enough and far enough away to need a telescope instead of a microscope, it made everything fall apart.
Sometimes I think Agile "theory" and large projects and organizations are the same dichotomy.
  • The "Agile" stuff seems great in small teams and projects that can be highly collaborative and iterative over short (collocated) distances with small "lightweight" teams and processes.

  • But throw it into a large project or organization, and "gravity" sets in, adding weight and mass and friction to processes and communication, and yet necessarily so, in order to scale to a larger living system of systems of systems.
So we are left with quantum agility and organizational gravity and trying to reconcile the two. What's an Agile SCMer to do about all that?


Unknown said...

I like your analogy with gravity. Yet, I think that projects are not large enough and speeds are not high enough yet to argue that we have relativity effects like curving space and time due to mass and speed (Theory of Relativity).

Instead, I think that "gravity" is a psychological and sociological phenomena in projects, the "human factor". Large projects typically revolve around people with a lot of power, beit formal power (e.g. management) or informal power (e.g. secretary, or a charismatic leader).

High concentrations of power ("mass") changes the way people behave, and thus how the project works. Large scale projects create long communication lines ("distance"). So yes, you migh call this the "gravity" effect of large and complex projects. Straight lines are "curved" in the proximity of "mass", which is only noticable when dealing with large "distances".


Anonymous said...

I think the physical effect that best models this is inertia.

Small lightweight projects - little inertia.

Large projects - high inertia and resistance to change.


Anonymous said...

Large projects "touch" more things and people. There are more interfaces and boundary conditions. A project that cannot achieve a critical mass is a candidate for Agile. Past some yet undefined crital mass (size) Agile is not effective.

Stuart Helwig said...

Excellent point about the number of interfaces / people that the project touches.

The more people involved, the more agendas there are, the more backsides need to be covered, plus the greater need for more formal communication, which all adds process and more apparently non-value add activities - or waste! I have recently started trying to implement some Agile techniques to a small team. It is working very well but I find myself sometimes falling back on some more formal (read long winded, backside covering) processes used in a passed life.

Brad Appleton said...

Thanks everyone for all the comments thus far! I guess I gave the impression I was speaking only about large projects in large organizations, and not also small projects in large organizations.

I think that in a large organization, even with a small project and team, the largeness of the organization itself can still inject enough "gravity" to thwart agility. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Ah, but the key of apparently both problems, is that at times
is good to pull some "strings [1]" and keep everyone in the "loop
[1]"... or better, use "superstrings" and "superloops" if you can :-)

I guess "political or management superstrings" would translate into:

use exectives (or even better board members),
and mandate (err, support) agility from the top

And I guess "political or management superloops" would translate

use Scrum at an enterprise level - if you want support from
the top introduce Agility where is going to make a significant
dollar difference for the business.
(Remember Scrum is based on the concept of nested
autocatalytic cycles or loops of patterns, for example:

Daily Scrum->Opportunistic Pair->
Refactor->Code->Test->Integrate->(back to Daily Scrum)

embedded into the Sprint cycle:

Sprint Planning Meeting->Reprioritization Meetings->
Sprint Review Meeting (Demo) --> (back to Sprint Planning)


- Mike

** Btw, String Theory claims to have found gravitons (left moving
spin 2 holomorphic vector boson representations of the closed
heterotic strings, for example). But the problem is that string
theorists still use a "background metric", therefore some say they
don't take GR (General Relativity) seriously because GR
is supposed to yield the metric (the curved space!) that one
shouldn't introduce a priori. But it gets worse, when you
quantize GR (if you take Quatum Mechanics seriously) - say through
a covariant canonical quantization (operator algebra, Ehrenfest,
commutators, etc.), you should end up with a discrete but
probabilitic description of spacetime -- not a differentiable
Riemannian manifold (with a metric).

But then there is LQG, Loop Quantum Gravity, which does quantize
space "the right way", yields to a discrete probabilistic space,
but can't predict:

leptons: electron, muon, tau (and their neutrinos)
quarks: top, down, charm, strange, bottom and top
or exchange bosons: photons, gravitons, W, Z

as String Theory can (sort of... not the masses .. just the representations i.e. vector, spinor, tensor, etc.). So as in the latest in Quantum Gravity,
Nature might be hinting us that we need both "strings" and "loops"
for the enterprise..???

** String Theory also has loops as in the n-loop diagrams for perturbative String Theory.