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Superman vs. Batman: The Agile Version

I used to be Superman.

I could do anything I wanted, and no one would tell me I was wrong. For good reason: I usually wasn’t wrong.

I wasn’t born Superman. I worked hard at it. I learned a lot. I was leading by example. And when I was the smartest guy around, who actually accomplished things, I became Superman.

Let me tell you, it feels great.

But Is it good for business?

We all know about the bus factor, the number of people that if hit by a bus, halts the project. Super-people tend to hold knowledge, that other people don’t have. Maybe it’s ego or competition, or maybe it’s just because others don’t want that knowledge. They feel safe that if something happens, Superman will swoop in and save the day. Sometimes, Superman is not around. Then there’s trouble.

It gets worse, though.

Superman can be wrong. And when Superman makes a mistake, it can be a crucial mistake for the organization.

If our Superman is an architect, and he makes a bad architectural decision for the entire project, it can cost millions. Or, if she’s a team lead and decides on a new process for the team, a bad process can cause the team slow down, and sometimes break up.

Holy sidekick, Batman!

None of us are mistake-proof. Even if we, or others, tell ourselves that.

Agile talks about short feedback loops. Feedback is a good start, but it’s not enough.

People get to the Superman throne because of their expertise. We tend to appreciate expertise in a knowledge-based environment. In order to discuss something with Superman, we need to get high enough to his level, or at least that he notices us and takes our advice to heart.

In short, we don’t need Superman. We need Batman and Robin.

That’s not easy, from an organizational point of view. Imagine how long it took to get one superhero, and bring him to that level. Now we need two?

This is just like any other system with a single point of failure. It’s pure risk management. If you’re aware of the risk, you can take action. Organizations that manage their risks well, not only know who their supermen are. They also put strong, smart people next to them, to encourage discussion and to counter their superpowers.

Superman may not like it, and that’s ok.

After all, you need Batman.

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