The beauty of Prague, architecture and agile.

Keith Richards
26 Sep 2017

I have just returned from a fantastic visit to the incredibly beautiful city of Prague.

Work first

I was invited by the Czech Project Management Chamber („Komora Projektových Manažerů“ ) and Symphera, to give a keynote address on PRINCE2 Agile to 240 project managers. Nearly all of them were familiar with PRINCE2 and I found the audience very engaging and understanding at how the combination would work well, if applied correctly.

The event was very well organised and well attended. I received a lot of positive feedback and many were quite excited about PRINCE2 Agile seeing it as a very natural progression that they were keen to learn more about.

Then play!

After the conference, I turned into a tourist and was amazed by the stunning architecture of Prague that seem to be around every corner. Wanting to take a picture of just about everything, I soon suffered from 'camera fatigue'! However, there were exceptions and most notably I was very surprised to see the InterContinental hotel in a prominent position on the bank of the Vltava river.

It looked completely out of place. To me it looked like a mistake!

It reminded me of the situation I see many times at organisations on their agile journey. Very often, decisions made about the underlying architecture or design, turn out to be incorrect.

The difficult decision to be made at this point is whether or not, to start again, or at least re-factor what is there. In software terms, this is usually quite straightforward, but not so with such things like infrastructure.

Is having another go such a big deal?

I do find that the teams and organisations that are very good at agile and very advanced in the way they operate, have a great philosophy towards taking these difficult decisions. They seem happy to take a lot of short-term pain, which can be very expensive, in order to see a better long-term solution. The attitude seems to be, ‘we got it wrong – let’s try again’. The key point, that I think most inexperienced teams miss, is that it can sometimes take much less time than it originally took, to create something new …and importantly, what replaces it, is usually very much better.

From my own experiences, this has happened many times. I remember on one occasion we debated and analysed what was the best architecture to use. This took two months. Within two weeks of developing with the new architecture, we realised we had made the wrong decision.

As with Lean Start-up, our attitude should have been to fail fast and learn fast. Correcting our decision took far less than two weeks as we had already built up a lot of knowledge. This would have been behaving in an ‘agile’ way.

I am not sure if this analogy works but I would liken it to building ‘flatpack furniture’ e.g. from Ikea. If at the end of two hours hard work you find that you made a mistake, it only takes a quarter of the time to correct it, even if you have to start all over again.

No offence meant here - a great place to visit!

I do hope I have not offended anyone about this building. I am not a professional architect so my opinion could be said to count for nothing. But if I was the ‘lead architect’ for Prague I think I would be looking at a Plan B!

When I decided to take a photograph of it, a dozen German tourists were laughing at me as if to say 'why take a picture of that building!'.

Having said that, even if I was allowed a Plan B, I believe the building has ‘listed status’ and is seen as a classic example of an approach to architecture called  ‘brutalism’. Another way of looking at it is that it makes all the other buildings around it even better than they already are! ...and they look amazing!