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The Spectrum of Agility (Doctor vs. Waiter)

October 03, 2020

From a podcast, one of the best analogies I’ve ever heard on agility as a spectrum. The host basically asks, what if a customer wants it both ways, here are fixed requirements but also be agile… I think this analogy is going to resonate with me for a long time.

…there’s a fundamental mismatch between here are the requirements, but please be agile with them.

That doesn’t make sense. That statement doesn’t make sense. There’s a spectrum that I learned from my friend and colleague Jeff Patton that really helps clarify the thinking around that question. It’s a spectrum on one end of the spectrum. You’ve got the word doctor. And on the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got the word waiter.

And I would challenge you as a service delivery organization to think about where you sit on that spectrum. If you sit on the waiter side of that spectrum, then your job is to bring me exactly what I asked for.

And whether you eat it or you don’t eat it or you like it or you don’t like it. That’s not my problem. You asked for steak with salad and a Coke. That’s what I brought you. Right. And that’s and that’s there are tons of organizations that’ll do that, right. Give me 100 grand. I’ll build you the ark right at the other end as a doctor.

A doctor. You don’t tell. You don’t come into the doctor and say, listen, I’d like this medicine, this vaccine, and this treatment. And the doctor says, OK, I’ll give it to you. The doctor works as a consultant to help you improve, ultimately to improve your KPIs, to improve your metrics. Right.

And so the question is, where do you sit on that spectrum? It is significantly easier to be agile on the doctor’s end of that spectrum than it is on the waiter end of that spectrum because the measures of success are fundamentally different at either end of that spectrum. On the waiter side of that spectrum.

The measure of success is output. Did you deliver the thing that I asked for on-time and on a budget? Right. Yes. And I brought you the steak, the salad, and the coke in 15 minutes. And it’s priced at what you expected to be priced, correct? That’s a measure of success. There’s no agility in that whatsoever. At the other end is outcomes. It’s changed in behavior. Of your customers’ changes in the measures of those behaviors.

Right. So, hey, did we get customers to buy more, to spend more, to spend more time to tell their friends to buy more than one product from us? That type of thing. Right. That’s where agile shines when there’s a significant amount of uncertainty and there’s not a clear sense of exactly what will achieve the business result that we’re looking for.

And that’s when operating as a doctor is far more valuable and so agile. And more importantly, agility cannot come into play in the conversation unless you start moving what you deliver and how you deliver it away from the waiter side of the spectrum and towards the doctor’s side.

Working Back To Go Forward (With Jeff Gothelf From

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