The Locomotive Revolution and Agile Project Management

I was watching a program last night on the evolution of the train, from the first steam trains to the current Shinkansen and AGVs. It was a great story of evolutionary steps to get us to today. Yet one stood out beyond the others. Revolutionary.

Bluebell Railway

A post shared by Nick Allen (@nickwallen) on

Right before the invention of Stephenson’s Rocket the current train (sorry) of thought was: the most efficient way to move goods and passengers on tracks from one point to the next is the cable car. You would hook the carriages up to steam engines constructed at regular intervals along the track and reel in the cable to bring them up. Then uncouple, ready for connecting to the next engine. Stephenson suggested the engine could in fact travel in front of the carriages pulling them along. Revolutionary.

As I watched I couldn’t help but see correlations to Agile and Scrum. The fix mounted engines gave waterfall progression to targets and the locomotive was Agile. Exploring this metaphor a bit more I now have a far greater empathy for those that have troubles adjusting to an agile project management style. It’s revolutionary.

Fixed steam engines

  1. There were fixed costs for each mile of track and steam engine.
  2. Destinations (results) were defined from the start.
  3. If one steam engine breaks down you could not complete the journey.

The locomotive

  1. Costs would vary with the length of the journey.
  2. Destinations could change. The train could even switch tracks (pivot).
  3. The locomotive was independent.

This shift in focus is polar. Switching from focusing on cost savings to revenue creation is a big change in mindset. Yet taking the jump from emphasising defined costs and outcome to flexibility and incremental value puts clients and users at the forefront of projects.

This places organisations in an even better position to give value in return for value.

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