Home » The Art of Doing Twice as Much in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland (Full Transcript)

The Art of Doing Twice as Much in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland (Full Transcript)

Jeff Sutherland

Full text of inventor and Co-Creator of Scrum, Jeff Sutherland on The Art of Doing Twice as Much in Half the Time at TEDxAix conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The art of doing twice as much in half the time by Jeff Sutherland at TEDxAix


Hello! I am here to talk about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — a great American dream that’s often not fulfilled. In the words of the poet Robert Burns, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go terribly wrong and lead to pain and suffering instead of the promised hope”.

I first started to wrestle with this problem as a cadet at West Point. We went through a lot of pain and suffering in our training. And in the last year I was there, they made me the training officer for Company L2. Because they had a marching problem on the parade field. Company L2 was known as the loose deuce. Because for a hundred years, they had a tradition of mediocrity, sloppy performance. For decades, people had tried to get them to march longer, train harder but nothing worked. So I knew I had to do something different.

So what I decided to do is I couldn’t tell them what to do. But I could put up on the bulletin board at night on color coded notes, exactly how their performance was on the parade field, and exactly what they needed to do to improve. Charlie has got to stop sticking his sword in the ground, in the middle of a parade. The third platoon has got to turn the corner in synchronization, and its commander has to enunciate his commands crisply and exactly right timing.

To everyone’s amazement, they became the number one company in the Corps of Cadets within three months. And General MacArthur died at this time. And he had specified there must be a company cadets marching behind his casket to lay him to rest, and L2 was chosen.

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So for dead last, to putting one of our greatest generals in the grave was a long journey in a very short period of time. Now I graduated from West Point and I went into the Air Force. While I was at West Point, I learned something from other leaders, I lived in a room which were — that had a plaque on the mantelpiece that said, “General Dwight D. Eisenhower slept here”. And every time I read that plaque, I remember his famous quote, “Plans are worthless. But planning is everything”.

So when I got to be a fighter pilot, I was in reconnaissance. We did a lot of planning. But one day, one of my fellow pilots, [Adam Berry] was blown out of the air over Hanoi by a SAM missile. And I said to myself, he did really good planning. But he was flying straight level over the target”. That could get me killed.

From that day forward, my plan was to have a vision where the target was, and as soon as I crossed North Vietnam, I went into an invasive maneuver, because every second, I knew I was being fired at. And only at the last moment would I come up straight level off for a target, just for a second, to snap that photo.

Now I got out of there alive. Over half the people I flew with did not come back from their missions. And when I came back to the United States, it was a big surprise. I had come so close to getting killed so many times. It felt like it was a new life. Every day was like a bonus day, a free day. And what was I going to do with it?

So I asked the Air Force to send me back to the Air Force Academy to become — train to be a professor or back to school at Stanford, train to be a professor at the Air Force Academy. And from there I went into the University of Colorado Medical School. I was on the faculty there for 11 years. While I was there, my expertise was building super-computer models of the human cell and showing how it evolved and multiplied and what caused it to become cancerous, what could make that stop, how do we cure cancer?

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And while I was there, a big banking company running 150 banks all over North America came by and they said, “You know, at the university, you have the best expertise in technologies we use at the bank. You have all the knowledge and none of the money. But at the bank, we’ve got all the money. And we don’t know what we’re doing. You should come work for the bank and it would be a perfect marriage of knowledge and money”.

And they made me an offer that my wife couldn’t refuse, a poor university professor. So I wind up at the bank. And what do I see? I see they’re running all these huge projects, hundreds of developers and they manage all these projects with a Gantt chart. And this is a technology that was introduced to the military of the United States in 1910. It didn’t work very well in World War I. And it didn’t work very well then, because every piece of the project is lined up with a date. And if anybody misses that timing, the whole project is delayed. And when it gets delayed, the customers get upset, the managers get angry. They would force these developers to work nights, weekends. They’d go on death marches. It reminded me of the Roman galleons, you know, the slaves rowing, rowing, the whip is cracking.

But as a fighter pilot, I knew the essence of the problem. These guys could not land a project. We learned as a fighter pilot that we had to very carefully bang that airplane right on the end of the runway. And if we didn’t, we might go halfway down the runway and slide off the runway into the trees. And that’s what they were doing every project — sliding off the runway into the trees.

So I went to the CEO and I said, “This bank is totally screwed up. If you give me the worst business unit in the bank, I will fix it, just like I fixed Company L2”.

And he said, “Sutherland, if you want that headache, you’ve got it”.

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.

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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.

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