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Throughout engineering history, focused and empowered teams have consistently achieved the near-impossible. Alan Turing, Tommy Flowers, and their teams at Bletchley Park broke Nazi codes, saved their country, and brought down the Third Reich. Kelly Johnson and the Lockheed Skunk Works designed and built the XP-80 in 143 days, and later produced the U-2, the SR-71, and the F-22. Xerox PARC invented Smalltalk, graphical user interfaces, Ethernet, and the laser printer. What can this history teach us? Well, basically everything.
Effective teams have a mission - a clearly defined problem which the entire team focuses on and owns end-to-end.
Effective teams collaborate without hierarchy, across disciplines and between diverse individuals. It should be no surprise that Bletchley was an eclectic mix of "Boffins and Debs" - almost 75% women at its peak; or that Skunk Works' founding team included the first Native American female engineer.
Effective teams rapidly learn and adapt. Constant experimentation, tight feedback loops, and a policy of embracing failure are all part of the recipe of success. Innovation does not arrive on a waterfall schedule.
If this sounds a lot like DevOps, or true little-a agile, that's no coincidence. But too few organizations actually practice these three-quarter-century-old ideas despite the overwhelming evidence that they work. As Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." So let's relearn those history lessons.
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