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Sometimes you gotta slow down to speed up.

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

Let me tell you a story.

Every year, the town of Le Mans, France is taken over by an incredible racing event. This particular race focuses on endurance and goes on for 24 hours straight. Instead of car companies focusing on building the fastest car, they now have to build reliable cars that also maintain a high speed. It is called 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Now within the circuit of the track, there is a stretch called the Mulsanne Straight which has some interesting history.

The Mulsanne Straight allowed cars to go full throttle for almost an entire half of a lap before needing to break at the tight Mulsanne Corner. Cars would be able to reach up to 250mph on this stretch. Pretty cool right? Pretty darn fast! It is a race after all, the point is to go as fast as possible in order to get to the finish line right?

Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and the Mulsanne Straight is an example of when it is prudent to slow down. During the 80s, several fatal accidents during the 24 Hours of Le Mans were attributed to this dangerous stretch of road where the combination of high speed and high downforce caused both tires and engines to fail.

Here is one story of a lucky driver who survived:

"1986 British driver Win Percy had a tyre on his 7.0 litre V12 powered Jaguar XJR-6 explode at some 386 km/h (240 mph), tearing off the rear bodywork and flipping the car into the air "up above the trees". The wreckage finally came to a halt 600 metres down the road. However, despite almost obliterating the vehicle, Percy managed to walked away from the crash."

Due to these accidents, in the 1990s, the 24 Hours of Le Mans Racing organization installed two chicanes onto the track. (A chicane is a serpentine curve in a road, added by design in order to slow traffic). The organization prioritized getting to the goal (the finish line) with the vehicle and driver in one piece over getting to the finish line as fast as possible.

"But it is a RACE!" you say. And yes there is a finish line and you want to get there AND get there first...but at what cost?

Are you going to get there first with a lightweight car that still works? Or are you going to crash because you choose to sacrifice quality/reliability for pure speed? There is also a risk of coming in last because of non-necessity items being added and weighing down the car.

Even in Agile development we will encounter finish lines (usually in the form of real deadlines), and we run laps (usually sprints) to help us get to that final goal. We have check-points along the way in order to get feedback and see how we are progressing. But something to be cautious about is focusing only on going fast to get to the finish line. This is when we start sacrificing quality. It is easy to get sucked into the mindset of "we have to be done now!" and as a result we cut corners. But often times this causes us to crash and we end up missing the finish line altogether.

Additionally, sometimes we get hung up on trying to perfect everything which slows us down and the finish line ends up getting further and further away from us. We run the risk of never actually completing the race at all.

The trick for Agile Teams is finding a balance between speed and quality. What is our Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that can get us to the finish line fast without sacrificing the quality of what we are developing; what are the things that need to be done "Now" so we don't crash and burn? And what are the things that can be done "Next" and "Later", so we don't slow to a crawl?

Here are some methods teams have used to find that balance.

I would encourage you, whether a Product Owner, ScrumMaster, Agile Coach or Development Team to examine which approach your group is taking, and encourage them to find that sweet spot of reliably fast.

Get to the Finish Line



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