So I said, “OK. I will report to you once a month to you and the senior management and the rest of the time you stay out of my unit. We’re going to run this as a little company in a company like a startup”. And so we broke them down into small teams, sales, marketing, installs, engineering, everyone — all working together with team incentives in a collaborative space. And we ran weekly cycles. We began building a backlog of what we needed to do. And I began to show them how to land the airplane.
How is it that a pilot can make a perfect touchdown? He has to look at altitude, airspeed, rate of descent, the heading of the airplane, understand the wind and the weather, and every few seconds being adjusting constantly. So every week they would try to land the airplane at the end of the runway. Bang! And week after week they did it, and surprise, surprise, in less than six months, that team was the best team in the bank. They had gone from the worse money losing unit to the most profitable units in the bank. Because they made their work visible. The team was given the responsibility to fix the problem and they self-organized to make it happen. It’s all about learning how to land the airplane.
Now from that banking experience, I was asked by a series of companies to come in and deal with tough problems. So I needed to figure out how to do this consistently and get other people to do it other than me. I couldn’t be there all the time for everyone. And so I began to think about how would I do this. I was running a little French company in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the MIT Campus. And five graduate students from MIT came by and they said, “We’re starting up a company building robots, can you rent us some space?”
And I said, “Sure. We have a couple of extra rooms you can use for a lab”.
And they were building these insect-like robots. And every other day the robots would come wandering into my office. They were trying to hunt me down with heat seeking sensors. And a senior professor at MIT was a co-founder and he would come by on Fridays and he would see how they were doing it. I asked him, I said, “Professor Brooks, how do these robots work?”
He said, “Jeff, the first thing you need to understand is that for thirty years, we’ve tried to build a smart system at MIT. And it’s been a total failure. We tried to build this command and control system with really big computers and huge databases. And it didn’t work. The best it could do was a smart chess program. So we said, I watched insects and I wanted to create something that had distributed intelligence, a chip in the leg that can move a leg. A chip in the spine that can coordinate legs. A neural network in the head that figures out where to go”.
And he turned it on and the legs flapped and waddled to its feet, it was like a baby learning how to walk, in three minutes it was running around the room.
I said, “Wow, that’s amazing. I used to have these really slow developers. Maybe we could give them some simple rules. And they would learn how to boot up into a super intelligent team, do you think that’d work?”
And he said, “Why don’t you try it?”
Well, I did a short time later. A company — a very successful company hired me in to build a new product. It was going to replace all their old products in half the time they’d ever done it before. And I had to figure it out. And our product had to be used by really big companies and I had to tell them how to use the product in an agile way. And we studied the literature and we found the best paper in the Harvard Business Review, where Nonaka and Takeuchi, two Japanese professors had shown three different styles of leadership. Number one, the Gantt chart. You know what happens with that one. Number two, a transitional strategy at Fuji Xerox. And number three that what they saw in the best manufacturing plants in the world.
So we ran how to implement number three and Takeuchi and Nonaka said, it needs to be self organizing, self-motivated teams. Management needs to let go and step back, they need to get out of the way. So the teams can figure out what to do.
So we implemented that in 1993. By 1995, I got together with my partner Ken Schwaber. We started rolling it out to industry. In 2001 we wrote the Agile Manifesto. And since then it’s gone everywhere in the world, all the major software companies. They’re building fighters, agricultural machinery, space probes. [Joe Justin] in the picture there is showing a car company, how to build a car in one week cycles. A new car every week.
But the leading edge of this Agile Movement today is actually in the schools of the US and Europe. I recently visited a school in the Netherlands where the kids have been trained to self-learn. The bell would ring, they’d come running into the room. Teams of four, they would run to the wall, put up their Scrum boards on the wall. They’d have a short daily meeting, what did we do yesterday, what we’d do today. What are the problems that are getting in the way? Run to the desk and start to work. The teachers are just standing there saying nothing. They only talk when they’re asked for help.
The enthusiasm of these kids was so overwhelming. I’m standing there with other teachers. We’re crying. The kids say, it’s faster learning, better grades. They finish weeks early. They have more fun. There is a definition of fun for everything they do, they make sure it’s achieved. The handicap children are involved naturally in the workings of the teams as team members. The motivation problems go away. The disciplinary problems go away. The team executes self-discipline.
If they need a little help from the teacher they might ask for it but generally they don’t need it. So this is the future of learning. And if you go back into the world that most of us live in, we’re not operating that way. The surveys show that most people think work really sucks. The only thing worse at work is being sick in bed.
I recently asked a software developer working in BMW Software in Paris, how he liked the Scrum team. He started choking up, he started bursting into tears, and he said, “I can’t tell you the exhilaration I feel. It’s changed my life”.
Every one of you could experience that. You can grab back your power, grab back your freedom, gain a life that’s transcended and the exhilaration you would feel, would give you the happiness that you would remember till your grave. That’s what I wish for every person in this room. And you need to give up and let go to make it happen.
Thank you very much.