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No More Elephant Carpaccio!

How to eat an elephant? Exactly: In small slices. With this salami tactics you can master big tasks. Many recognize the iterative-incremental nature of agile methods like Scrum and therefore feel reminded of this elephant carpaccio — a fallacy which is based on the fundamental confusion of complicatedness and complexity.

Salami tactics has its justification for handling step-by-step tasks that are large and complicated, but otherwise well understood. Building an airplane or a car falls into this category. Such a problem can be dismantled and analyzed. And the desired result can then be composed of the components. This is certainly the case today with many years of experience in aircraft and automobile construction.

The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity.

Douglas Horton

In the days of the Wright brothers or Gottlieb Daimler, however, these tasks were completely different. At that time those were complex problems which were solved not by rational analysis, but through learning by trial and error. Asked by a reporter how it feels to fail a thousand times, Thomas Edison replied: “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Henrik Kniberg. Making sense of MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

Agility primarily translates into flexibility. This adaptability actually results from a series of small steps. Ideally, each of those steps is a small experiment with the aim of learning a little more about the challenge and the possible solutions. Like the sequence at the bottom of Henrik Kniberg’s drawing above. Each step results in a usable product that allows for experience to be gained. This is completely different from elephant carpaccio, where it is only at the end that one notices whether the elephant is viable.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Chrurchill

The common objection that it is not efficient to build a skateboard, a scooter, a bicycle and a motorcycle before the convertible is as justified as it is instructive. In fact, this procedure is not efficient if it is clear that the customer needs and wants the convertible and it is clear how convertibles are basically built. Then this still complicated task can be rationally and efficiently solved by means of decomposition.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Abraham Maslow

However, it is often not clear which product or service will be needed tomorrow and what a possible business model looks like. Or it is uncertain what the best technical solution is — like for Edison, Daimler or the Wright brothers. Or all together. A great deal of unnecessary suffering arises from the fact that the entire arsenal for efficient solutions to complicated tasks is applied to a problem that is actually complex. So: please no more elephant carpaccio when you really need agility.

New: The Book on the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership

On the occasion of the first anniversary I published a detailed version of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership on Leanpub. I am looking forward to feedback and impulses on the one hand and, of course, to broad dissemination on the other. Please spread the word!

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Filed under: Agile


Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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  1. Pingback: Cas d'étude - La granularité des Items du Product Backlog - Histoire de Réussir

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