Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Agile Isn't New

When I was in the US Navy, one of my assignments was working with the U-2 spy plane and the folks at Lockheed Martin, famous for their Skunk Works program. I was recently researching the program for some training I was doing, and realized how closely the principles of Kelly Johnson aligned with the principles of agile.

Skunk Works came about in 1943 as Lockheed (as they were know as then) was working on the first jet fighter. Kelly Johnson was a young engineer on this program. He outlined his 14 rules & practices to  guide the teams. Some of the key points include:

  • The manager should have practical control of the program (think product owner)
  • Use a small number of good people
  • Use very simple drawings with flexibility for making changes
  • Minimize reporting to what is important
  • Mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor

Now some of the other rules related to the relationship between the vendor and the government, but this list sounds similar to some points in the Agile Manifesto and Guiding Principles. I don't know if the work of Kelly Johnson influenced the people that wrote the manifesto, but it's clear the ideas have been around for a while. And as far as a track record, the original fighter plane (XP-80) was designed and built in 143 days, and the U-2 has been operational for almost 60 years.