Friday, November 08, 2013

How Tony La Russa Invented Agile Development  

When Tony LaRussa retired after the team he managed won the 2011 World Series, he was given the usual proforma respect retiring managers who have taken their teams to multiple World Series-es get.

He wasn't, however given the tribute he was due in general because he could be obstreperous and sometimes not effusive or reticent with the press, and the press, after all, determines a retiring manager's press coverage.

Specifically, though, no-one mentioned LaRussa's management techniques were one of the two bases of the Agile Development movement. It was ignored because the baseball press is pretty ignorant of contemporary software development models and the software development trade press is pretty ignorant of baseball managers (well, I think they're sometimes ignorant of the actualities of software development, too). Further, software development gurus tend to pretend the other, totally software-dev based source for Agile, the work of Tom DeMarco & Timothy Lister as summarised in their classic 1987 book Peopleware — Productive Projects and Teams wasn't a primary radix of Agile management.

But the time has come to explain his rôle in this business innovation, as he and co-author Rick Hummel explain in their recent book, One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season. They don't address Agile Software Development directly, but if you read the (very cool) book, and then read the Agile Manifesto (it's not a Personifesto...all 17 signers were male), you'll see a direct path from the La Russa methods to the foundational management approaches of the Agile school. To remind you, the Agile Manifesto reads thusly:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Working software over comprehensive documentation

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • Responding to change over following a plan
Except for the first assertion, all come directly from the essential Baseball processes that La Russa learned from mentors such as Paul Richards, Dick Williams and Roland Hemond, then mastered and ultimately refined.

The MANifesto also presented 12 Agile principles. They lifted two-thirds of those twelve directly from Baseball s.o.p.

Specifically, the eight are:

  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in
    development. Agile processes harness change for
    the customer's competitive advantage.
  • Business people and developers must work
    together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals.
    Give them the environment and support they need,
    and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of
    conveying information to and within a development
    team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development.
    The sponsors, developers, and users should be able
    to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence
    and good design enhances agility.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs
    emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how
    to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts
    its behavior accordingly.

The most advanced management techniques in industry are about three decades behind Baseball management. Smart management practitioners know they can blow away their competitors if they draw from Baseball, and the Agile MANifesto crew were clever enough to do this. I'm going to give you 17 examples in the coming weeks drawn from the La Russa book that will show you clearly how the Agile Manifesto dudes cloned La Russa's successes to sculpt their constellation of software development methods.

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