RAF Red Arrows

Coordinating teams like synchronised flying?

I don’t really know what piloting a plane is like. I’m not a pilot. I have only ever been in the cockpit at museums (sitting in an SR-71 Blackbird was amazing). But, whenever I hear of software teams who need to work together – perhaps because they deliver different parts of the same product or perhaps because one supplies the other, or just because they all work for the same company – I always imagine its like synchronised flying.

In my mind I look at software teams and see the Red Arrows or Blue Angels. Now you could argue that software teams are nothing like an acrobatic team because those teams perform the same routines over and over again, and because those teams plan their routines in advance and practice, practice, practice.

But equally, while the routine may be planned in depth each plane has to be piloted by someone. That individual may be following a script but they are making hundreds of decisions a minute. Each plane is its own machine with its own variations, each plane encounters turbulence differently, each pilot has a different view through their window. And if any one pilot miscalculates…

As for the practice, one has to ask: why don’t software teams practice? – In many other disciplines practice, and rehearsal, is a fundamental part of doing the work. Thats why I’ve long aimed to make my own training workshops a form of rehearsal.

Software teams don’t perform the same routines again and again but in fact, software teams synchronise in common reoccurring ways: through APIs, at release times, at deadlines, at planning sessions. What the teams do in between differs but coordination happens in reoccurring forms.

While acrobatic teams may be an extreme example of co-ordination the same pilots don’t spend their entire lives flying stunts. Fighter pilots need to synchronise with other fighter pilots in battle situations.

OK, I’m breaking my own rule here – using a metaphor from a domain I know little of – but, at the same time I watch these displays and this image is what pops into my head.

Anyone got a better metaphor?

Or anyone know about flying and care to shoot down my metaphor?

Image: Klu Open Dagen 2019 from Wikimedia, CCL by TM.

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1 thought on “Coordinating teams like synchronised flying?”

  1. martinsmith2013

    I view frequent “hack days” where teams collaborate on projects outside their normal “day to day” work deliverables as a form of practice. Looking at your example and questions, I’d argue that even the “routine” isn’t always agreed upon in advance when building software; I’d say the outcomes are, but how a team arrives at the outcome often isn’t planned in advance, unlike a flight plan which is known in advance.

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