Agility vs. Speed: The True Source of Effective Project Management

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Cheetah lying on the rock

Image courtesy of Tambako the Jaguar

How Can Agile Teams Learn from the Cheetah?

I have great admiration for the cheetah, one of the fastest animals and deadliest hunters on Earth. Not only is the cheetah incredibly fast, its effectiveness is further enhanced by its ability to accelerate, stop, and make sharp turns without losing momentum.

What is even more fascinating is that, in a recent widely cited article, by using a collar-tracking technology, researchers have found that most hunts are not completed at the cheetah’s breakneck top speeds of almost 100 km/h, but at a much slower average speed of 40-50 km/h. Those hunts though, have a lot of rapid starts, stops, and sharp turns that would be unthinkable for other animals or even machinery. To illustrate just how amazing this ability is, a researcher was quoted, “A cheetah can bank at a 50-degree angle in a high-speed turn, while a motorcycle can do maybe 45 degrees.”

Indeed, it is the flexibility that really gives the cheetah an edge, rather than its pure muscle power and physique. This makes sense because the cheetah is not competing in an Olympic sprint competition. There are no lanes or set finish lines or rules. It is chasing after elusive, fast moving, and unpredictable prey over unpredictable terrain and conditions. The ability to make adjustments, to run in fits and starts, and to conserve energy becomes essential in that uncertain environment.

The Benefits of Agile Methodology

Why Your Project Teams Should Model Their Performance on the Cheetah’s Agility, Not Just Its Speed

This is very pertinent to the approach to improving the effectiveness of project teams. Projects are more like hunting than running the 100m at the Olympics. The end goals are not always clear, adjustments have to be made along the way, and the conditions always change (most of the time for the worse — Murphy’s law).

In those conditions, while it is important that the team achieves the maximum rate of output (speed), it is the team’s collective ability to discern the need for and rapidly make adjustments that enhances its effectiveness and ultimately its success. With agile project management methodologies, teams are empowered to be self organizing, and are expected to make adjustments and continuous improvement. Just like the cheetah, an agile project team combines the right balance of raw power and flexibility to constantly target the most important task ahead and achieve its goal with optimal efficiency.

OpenView is fully committed to agile methodology, having adopted Scrum as our central methodology for project execution and coordination for years. Even though our work does not constitute traditional product development — for which Agile methodologies are intended for — we benefit tremendously from the tenets of Scrum and can truly understand the transformation our portfolio companies’ development teams go through when they adopt such principles.

Have you had any particular success or challenges adopting and implementing agile methodology?