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I just returned from Amalfi Coast, Italy. Beautiful place, lots of tales to tell, but on this post I will focus on the insane road from Sorrento to Salerno, and the bus drivers which are the super heroes in this realm.

Let me explain this a bit. The road connects the beautiful towns built on the steep mountain side – Positano, Praiano, Amalfi, Ravello and Majori. What makes it a challenge, or insane as I put earlier, is the fact that it is only 6 meters wide from the mountain wall to the small concrete fence separating a driver from a ~50 meter downright drop to the sea. Moreover, it is very serpentine, having continuous 90 to 180 degree curves. Finally dropping bikers, walkers, cars and – buses – to this equation makes the road a thriller for which even the nastiest roller coasters cannot compete. Take a look for yourself!

The bus drivers seem to have unnatural skills and extra senses when they operate their vehicles. They need exact perception of the bus and its surroundings from the bird perspective. They literally calculate millimeters to allow the traffic to be smooth most of the time. Every now and then the other drivers, which do not share the same skills, manage to mess things up a bit and the traffic jams completely. In this moment the bus drivers are summoned from their seats to solve the situation. The operation can be huge – it is not easy to reform the piled up car queues, which sometimes need to reverse distances. Eventually when they succeed they receive well earned applause of all involved.

The bus driver has quite a simple task: to get the passengers from one place to another, driving a route that they know very well. What turns the simplicity to complexity is the constantly changing and unpredictable environment – weather conditions, other drivers and the infinite combinations of these. No matter how many times the bus driver drives the route or  prepares for it beforehand, each trip is unique with its own challenges which cannot be predicted in detail. For sure, the bus driver can imagine most common challenges from the experience, but not the exact nature and resolution of these.

Technical product development has quite similar paradigm. No matter how much we prepare for the journey from the product idea to our destination – commercial product – we face unique challenges for which we can prepare only on very high conceptual level, utilizing our experience. We also must be prepared for the resolutions on the fly, required by the end customer feedback or changes for the customer requirements, priorities, markets etc. – quite a plenty of causes here.

Agile and lean methodologies in product development target to make these adaptations easier, focusing more on the tasks and challenges on hand which makes it easier to optimize the development activities in constantly changing environment. Having an analogy to above mentioned bus driver in Amalfi Coast, this agile driver does not spend too much time for planning the details of the trip and preparing to its inevitable challenges, as for sure this cannot be done in detail. Instead, he welcomes the constantly changing conditions, knowing that his experience, skills, interaction and caution allows him to find optimal resolution for the challenge on hand and get once again the thrilled customer to the destination.

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