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Jun 28 2013

The Kites and the Swans

A friend of mine (non-technical) asked me recently, “What the heck is this ‘Agile’ thing everyone is talking about?”

He is a thoughtful guy, successful in business and investing, so I figured there had to be a reason beyond simple intellectual curiosity for the question. Sure enough he was considering joining the board of a startup and didn’t want to seem out of touch when listening to the product development plans and couldn’t specifically attach any value to Agile development as explained by the technical co-founder.

All of us in the business of developing new things, with modern frameworks, using Agile practices know the advantages in terms of the quality of code, the speed of deployment and the productivity of our teams. But what is the real impact of doing so if it does not translate into, or be perceived as an actual business asset? An asset that is understood and appreciated at all levels in a company’s value chain (Investors, partners, customers and other necessary evils).

The modern business landscape is littered with the remnants of one-time high-flyers crashed to the ground, or who are busy “re-inventing” themselves or apologizing for having “lost its way”. So often the cause lays in the abandonment of the very things that made you great to begin with. Words like diversification, strategic, and opportunity start to distract and intoxicate the brightest minds in your business. When I think of “Agile”, I think of words like test, prioritize, and iterate. The constant striving to become a better version, not a new version.

So what did I tell my friend? I told him Aesop’s story of the Kites and the Swans.

In the old days both the kites and the swans could sing. But one day the kites heard the neigh of the horse and were so enchanted with the sound that they tried to imitate it. In trying to neigh, they forgot how to sing.

The desire for imaginary benefits often involves the loss of current blessings.

—Duncan Shaw