Agile vs Waterfall in the Star Wars universe

Written by , in category Agile & Scrum

19 April 2017

DISCLAIMER: I’m a Trekkie, married to a Warsie, so the science fiction and space opera genres are part of my life. If you haven’t seen any of the Star Wars movies, I truly do recommend them and specifically in this order: 4-5-6-1-2-7. There is no episode 3. (Just kidding). Episode 8 will be in theatres by the end of 2017.

But let’s get to the point here.

I came across this funny post trying to explain the RACI model based on the roles in the Galactic Republic in Star Wars. And it actually does quite a good job at achieving that goal: it shows how Darth Vader always takes the blame when reporting to the Emperor, but also how bounty hunters, Stormtroopers and spaceship staff are placed and being treated within their very comand-and-control hierarchy.

Wat also struck a chord was how the RACI model is in this way placed in a very negative and strict environment. When watching the Star Wars movies, we easily feel that the Empire (or the First Order, or whatever part of the timeline or canon we’re in) are the “bad” ones. Is it also strangely fitting that the RACI model can so easily be mapped on their way of working?

Let’s look at the other side of the spectrum. We usually refer to them as the “Good Guys”, but in the movies better known as “The Rebellion”. A naming that is consciously used by the “order” to imply chaos, destruction and changing the status quo. They have to be destroyed because they are actively working against their established “order”. But the rebellion don’t follow a RACI, and the dynamics are dramatically different.

Let’s take a look at how the teams are composed when an attack is prepared. People are chosen and asked to take up roles and responsibilities based on their strengths and the needed skillset per team. In The Return of the Jedi (Ep. 6), when the mission to Endor is explained, the different roles that are needed are clearly layed out and the skills attached to them placed before the group. People volunteer for each role, fully aware of the risks they might be taking, but also in their strengths. The result is stunning: high levels of communication throughout the attack are maintained based on a very good knowledge of each person’s role and skillset. Additionally, the team on Endor is able to gain from each other’s skills by improvising on them when they’re in trouble, enlisting the voluntary help from the Ewoks and finally, through trial and error, achieving the goal that was thought unachievable: to destroy the shield generator. And they do this while placing the rest of their fate in the hands of the other teams of the Rebellion, who still need to destroy the Death Star in order to make the Galaxy safe again. They are aware of their part in the greater scheme of things.

Photo: Lucasfilm

Is it a coincidence that the way the Rebellion is organised is much more following the modern views of team organisation? Let’s break it down:

  • Voluntary team members
  • Based on strengths, not weaknesses
  • Based on skillset
  • Small teams with a common goal
  • Emerging leadership, less formal leadership (important: there still is some formal leadership in place, e.g. the military ranks and the leading role of Princess Leia)
  • Work well under pressure
  • Adapt to changing circumstances

Sounds familiar? Welcome to the Agile Rebellion. Let’s go blow up a Death Star.

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