Sailing by Sight

When it comes to agility, many people think in terms of methods such as Scrum on a small scale, frameworks such as LeSS on a large scale or tools such as JIRA. This perspective leads to a multitude of cargo cult, i.e. artfully celebrated actions without any effect. Agility is first and foremost a question of stance, which is best captured by the notion of sailing by sight. While classic plan-driven companies always strive to analyze, plan and then implement as comprehensively as possible, agile companies pragmatically ask themselves periodically what they can do here and now to improve and further develop their product.

We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.

Herb Kelleher

The increasing complexity of the world cannot be tackled with more analysis and more planning. What is needed now is a fundamental paradigm shift. It is now a question of acknowledging this inherent uncertainty instead of negating it and not confusing complexity with complicatedness. The appropriate response to complexity and uncertainty is not more and better analysis and planning, but rather sailing by sight.

A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.

Grace Hopper

Every journey begins with a first step. Agility hinges on the courage to take this first step without complete knowledge of the problem and solution domain. To implement a planned and fixed backlog of requirements in sprints is also somehow nice (and in German we have the saying that, nice is the little sister of shit). But this has nothing to do with agility, it is cargo cult at its best.

If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Nonetheless, agility does not mean chaos or a lack of planning. On the contrary, agility requires clear orientation. Sailing by sight only works with a reliable compass. Agile companies do not try to fully understand the problem and the solution, but rather ask themselves again from iteration to iteration what they can do here and now to develop the product a little further. But it must be clear to everyone at all times in which direction this further lies?

Get the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership as Paperback

Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership: Cover of English paperback The Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership is also available in a detailed version as a paperback at Amazon (also as an e-book). Since I have published the book independently, I am always delighted to receive word of mouth recommendations to colleagues, friends and acquaintances.


Hi Marcus,
I always enjoy your blogs and would love to buy you a coffee, but you are in the ITZ and I am in the UK and the travel restrictions apply.
A quote you may already know but rings true for this blog;

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – French Poet and Aviator


Leave a Reply