Hull Speed for Systems


I have noticed that all systems have some natural capability for
productivity, value delivery and quality. As the people in the system
gain experience in the system, their performance will start reaching
that systemic speed. Just like with a ship, this happens quite easily,
but when the “hull speed”* is reached, the amount of effort / power to
go faster dramatically increases, up to the point that a certain speed
seems unsurmountable regardless of power expended. In systems, we can
perceive this e.g. in overtime, which does not yield real benefit
since the extra effort translates to more mistakes and other negative
factors that detract from real progress.

I continually observe that also in the ball point game, where people
psyche themselves to try harder, but they still get the same result.

Also, waterfall has a certain hull speed. No amount of pressure will
make it deliver stuff faster.

Organisations, as they are composed, also have a hull speed.

The only way to go faster than the hull speed is to change the system
into one that has a higher hull speed. E.g. starting to use Scrum. But
any given set of practices also has a hull speed. And the only way to
go faster (after the learning period) is to change the practices to
ones with higher hull speed.

Thus, we can say that any action that does not affect the system’s
structure and fundamental behavior in some way (and merely is an act
to “shape up”, “increase discipline”, or “try harder”) is very
unlikely to produce any lasting effort. Any benefits gained from such
activities either produce negative side effects that ultimately cancel
any positives, or disappear over time as the system returns to its
hull speed.

TL;DR: Work smarter, not harder.


* I know that hull speed is technically a little different from that,
but a layman’s approach is good enough for this concept :).

One Response to “Hull Speed for Systems”

  1. ScrumMaster Tales – Overtime on a Scrum Team is an Unhealthy Sign | Agile Pain Relief Says:

    […] the day and discussed the costs. The simplest explanation might have been that any system has a “hull speed”, i.e. a maximum speed that can achieved without dramatically increasing the amount of effort. […]

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