I really enjoyed this interview with Tom Friend, the military liason for the Scrum Alliance. We bumped into each other at a Scaled Agile workshop in Charlotte. We talked about agile in the military and how that relates to complex systems.
Jesse: Hi everybody, Jesse Fewell here with a special edition of Morning Fewell. I’m here with Tom Friend who is the veterans affairs liaison for the Scrum Alliance.
Tom: Close enough. It’s all good.
Jesse: All right. What does that mean?
Tom: I’m working with Scrum Alliance to create a military transition program for veterans coming out of the service, and going into the civilian work force. The veteran skill sets as servant leaders line up beautifully with the core values of Scrum.
Jesse: Fascinating. Tell me more about that, because the stereotype is that if you wanted to go agile the last place you would look would be in the military.
Tom: That perception to me is amazing, because from a perspective of the military, you do have centralized planning. But when it comes down to execution at a team level, you have complete autonomy. There’s autonomy, mastery, and the command and control gives you purpose. There’s the flag on the hill, go take it. It self-organize, and figure it out.
Jesse: Right. I’ve heard it explained that particularly the Scrum model for example emulates the distinction you’ve got a purpose defined by a commanding officer, a “product owner”, if you will. Then you’ve got an organizational role with your NCO who’s trying to get a group of disparate skill sets to operate in cohesion together towards that goal.
Tom: Right. With the battle rhythm in execution, or coordination with [:40] lines that allow you to see what all of your other aligned, subordinate and superior units are doing in the same way. It is truly a scaled framework for Scrum. It’s scrums of scrums.
Jesse: Right, okay. Fascinating. The follow up on that because I understand that you’ve been doing some work in the military space, or in the government space, or in large scale technology space. What are some of the things that you’ve personally seen firsthand that fit with Agile on that?
Tom: Yeah. There’s some amazing patterns right now from a perspective of manufacturing when you look at aircraft manufacturing, for example, you have a system which would be like any enterprise. That system would be aircraft, and underneath that’s a system. Fuels, avionics, the engines, landing gear, then the subsystems. Those things that make that up, components, sub-components, and then you have pieces which are parts that are put together, and your feed stock, your base metal, and all those things …
Jesse: (sarcastically) Can we just have 10 guys come together and do all that…just like solve it, right?
Tom: Exactly. You need to be able to have that command and control to say how this is going to be done. But you actually go down all the way to that part where you are making a screw. All right, here’s a piece of metal to make that screw. Now take that screw and that bolt and put them together into a fastener. Now that fastener goes into a wire harness, and a component. That component then is moved into a subsystem on that landing gear, and then that landing gear is ultimately put into the aircraft as a whole.
Jesse: I want to touch back. You’ve used the term command and control twice now. I think what you talk about command and control is not what the average Agile guy talks about with command and control. Tell me what do we understand differently.
Tom: Yes, it’s very different. It’s about centralized planning, and the coordination. It’s the execution rhythm. It’s the beat of the drum as everyone comes together in their respective parts throughout the hierarchy.
Jesse: When an Agile guy hears about command and control he’s like, “you will do what I say because I know best.”
Tom: I will allow you to centrally organize around planning the solution to your particular problem, and coordinating how we are doing at an execution rhythm because as you go forward in a battle plan, or in the battle rhythm you have phase lines, and at a point you hit a phase line either you have or haven’t. If you haven’t, you execute a contingency, or you re-plan, and you and you come back into that same cycle.
Jesse: Yeah, excellent. Interesting stuff. It was so good to meet you here at … We spent the week together here at the Skilled Agile Framework class, and it was an excellent week. I’ve really enjoyed hearing what you’ve had to say from the perspective of a military, and large scale, and what does it meant to be adaptive, and agile in that perspective. It was good chatting with you.
Tom: I’ve enjoyed. This is fun. I look forward to continuing the dialogue.