Oct 052012
Black Widow (Natalia Romanova)

Black Widow (Natalia Romanova) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My last post is by far and away the most publicized thing I have ever blogged. I have been truly stunned at its runaway popularity – keeping in mind this is all relative. I have about four regular readers, so anything that gets tweeted more than twice counts as “runaway popularity.”

I was talking about it with Travis, and we tried to think of how I could rebottle some of that lightning. Here’s what I came up with:

One, it was a critique, so it released all those aggression endorphins. Two, it was of a public figure, which added drama.

I decided to turn this up to eleven. I’m critiquing Scarlett Johansson. Specifically, Black Widow in the recent Avengers movie.

At first glance, Scarlett might appear to be agile. In this movie, she jumps, flips, and generally outmaneuvers, outguns, and outdoes everyone else. In one scene, she beats up a bunch of guys using only the chair to which she’s been tied. All this seems pretty agile, right?

See, this is a rookie mistake. You are confusing physical agility with organizational agility.

Let’s take a look at Scarlett Johansson’s value stream:

Fig. 1 - Scarlett Johansson's Value Stream

Fig. 1 – Scarlett Johansson’s Value Stream

First of all, there are no WIP limits. The effect on Black Widow’s ability to deliver value to S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t really apparent in the movie, but this is because Black Widow is awesome. She outperforms her organizational dysfunctions. Also, the linear narrative obscures a lot of multitasking Black Widow has to do. Yes, she does an amazing job, but just think – how much more efficiently could she interrogate Loki if she didn’t also have to focus on saving the world? I think this is a clear case of a great person and high performer not being able to reach their full potential because of a poor process.

Second, Nick Fury has established a command and control culture that primarily manages by fire alarm. How is Black Widow supposed to get anything done efficiently when her boss is always changing the business priorities? We’re losing altitude! Loki has the tesseract! The Hulk is loose in the engine room! Sheesh, Nick, when’s it going to stop? If every little thing gets moved to the top of the priority stack, then nothing can get done.

This is just one more case of the appearance of agility without actual substance. I hear it all the time. “We’re agile. We have a whole division of ninja and super spies.” Folks, this is not true agility, and you should avoid consultants that claim that it is. Not every organization needs a ninja, but they all need WIP limits.

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