Aim Small, Miss Small

There is an educational and buoyant if perhaps less jovial scene in one of the most stirring feel-good movies of all times, the 2000 film The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson and the late Heath Ledger (incidentally, an ideal choice for a Valentine’s Day home screening, in my case, however, only by unilateral demand and decree). The movie’s protagonist, Benjamin Martin (Gibson) is swept into the American Revolutionary War when his family is threatened and generally abused by the ruthless Green Dragoons cavalry. It deals with such important themes as single parenting, nation building, and uniting a ragtag South Carolina militia against mighty Lord Cornwallis in the face of indiscriminate carnage and cold blooded atrocities committed by the British. As such it marks Mr. Gibson’s second and most satisfying (and, no doubt here, historically correct) epic “blood libel against the English” war film. Not to be missed but back to the all-important ambush scene.

When teaching his eight-year-old how to shoot a muzzle-loading rifle in order to ambush a British column in the woods, Martin/Gibson admonishes “aim small, miss small,” meaning that if you aim at a man and miss, you miss the man, while if you aim at his button and miss, you still hit the man. As a piece of fatherly-cum-partisan advice not only useful, we shall see, when slaying foreign oppressors and Crown-loyalists in the swamps of 18th Century South Carolina.

“Aim small, miss small,” is in fact also the maxim, if not the credo of the CIO of a Fortune 500 company whom I’ve recently interviewed and whose firm has now implemented 20+ projects using Agile – and that under the governance of the PMO. Some of the key drivers in Agile software development, in the experience of this CIO, work best – or only work at all – when tackled in very small “shots”; these are:

  • Task planning;
  • Effort estimation;
  • Task adherence; and
  • Performance (self) assessment.

For him “aiming at the button” means rather than “big shots” (read the IT leadership team) deciding on the risk management approach, with Agile the development team is asked in real time how to mitigate the risk. Since risk management is embedded in the Agile framework, Agile teams are typically more efficient at identifying and managing risks.

And here the “Agile PMO” fills an important role – as an Agile educator and arbiter that can balance the business needs with the level of compliance in order to eliminate any waste. The PMO collects retrospective information from Agile teams in order to perform root-cause analysis or even run Six Sigma DMAIC. The PMO is also in charge of standardizing the Agile metrics at the organizational level. Then the PMO can statistically determine the organizational burn-down rate or velocity.