Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

IT Innovation and Angry Birds

At a meeting yesterday, one of my colleagues drew an astoundingly simple analogy for how we should approach information technology implementation and development: “We should work like we’re playing Angry Birds.” The meaning was instantly obvious, without having to explain it: fail fast, learn from mistakes, try again, and strive for mastery.

My colleague may have stolen this conceit from somebody else, but it was the first I’ve heard it and it really struck a chord. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it for twenty-four hours… As an organization, we have been struggling to adopt Agile / Scrum principles, both within ourselves and with third parties accustomed to tried-and-true traditional methodologies. The challenge is especially acute with respect to ERP, and I’ll blog more about that theme in the near future. Today I want to belabor this awesome Angry Birds analogy for a few minutes...

Fail fast. A trendy phrase for entrepreneurs and technologists, the idea is that one should strive to fail fast (when you have resources to try again) than to fail slow (after pouring time and money into the effort). Levels in Angry Birds are one board and only a few avian missiles. Sure, you can plan your attack, but there is little value in extensive analysis when there is no penalty for failing (other than losing 20 seconds of one’s life). The reality is that until you see how the blocks actually tumble, whether the stones crush the wood, how much damage exploding TNT does, etc., you are guessing in the dark. You need to fail fast so that you can try again.

Learn from your mistakes. Duh. When you fail, you need to pay close attention to what worked, what didn’t, where you came close, and where you shouldn’t go again. Rare is the Angry Birds level mastered on the first try.

Try again (and again). No rocket science here – take another turn, incorporate what you learned the last time (or the last 100 times), and hope for the best. Rinse and repeat.

Strive for mastery (or know when to walk away). This might be the best part of the metaphor – in Angry Birds, completing a level may give you access to the next board, but there is also a scale of mastery. One must choose whether to move on to the next level or to strive for three stars – complete mastery of the current level. This is complicated – when is “good enough” enough, and when is “perfect” the goal. This need not be a binary question – you can always come back later to work on that second or third star. I have seen too many cases in my career where our real problem is that we don’t treat one star as “done” but kill ourselves aiming for three stars and never moving on to the other levels. This is a pitfall to be avoided – you have to know when to move forward. There are some levels that you might just never master, and that’s okay. Because there will be another edition of Angry Birds with all new levels on iTunes tomorrow…

Come back next week for project management lessons from Super Mario Bros. J


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