Mission Impossible Really was Agile

By Brian Lucas

This one is for you Fran!

“Good morning Mr. Briggs/Phelps[1], the situation in…Your mission should you decide to accept it is to…”

This is a second perspective on Mission Impossible (MI), one of my all-time favorite TV series.  MI really was a very fine example of an agile organization and operation.  First off, their funder the “Secretary” gave them a goal and then stayed out of the team’s way.  The Secretary never told them how to accomplish it; although at times a deadline was set, based on environmental conditions, that the team might not have otherwise known about.

Next the team[2] was a prime example of a mind mapped[3] virtual corporation[4].  A small core team, each being a strong and well-rounded member, worked together all the time.  Their interactions became second nature and their mutual trust complete.  Each member had their own particular strength[5] and volunteered their effort without being ordered to do so by the titular head Briggs/Phelps.  Actually Briggs/Phelps was a model for what I see the role of an agile leader evolving into, an active player/director not just a facilitator[6].

When additional resources were necessary, they were selected from the mind mapped, prescreened portfolio of all the virtual team/corporation members.  These professionals all had reached prior agreements with the IMF team and flowed easily into the workforce.

The team rapidly assembled without a lengthy prestaging organizing effort.  While there was some planning done by Briggs/Phelps, each member often had input into the plan.  Team members clearly felt comfortable questioning Briggs/Phelps, who justified points with logic based on the need of the circumstances, not blatant authority.  The point being, the team very clearly understood exactly what was expected of them.  Furthermore, they accepted the assignment, they were not ordered to do it.

They were given total freedom of operation.  Briggs/Phelps saw that they got all the resources[7] they needed so the team was able to operate with great efficiency.  The pipeline and the fulfillment of these resources were immediate, there was no bureaucracy slowing down the fulfillment.  The team didn’t have to constantly justify their needs, nor were their requests second guessed by executive management.

Finally, the team always did a remarkable job of communicating with each other; before, during and after the job.  They had a very informal recap, where they all got a chance to appreciate a job well done and comment on any remarkable occurrences.

Well Fran, how was that?  As you can see I did not mention computers[8] once.  To all my readers, I hope you enjoyed the simple analogy and remember till next time – keep agile!


[1] I enjoyed both actors’ performances.  I am a fan of Peter Graves.  He was so funny in Men in Black 2.

[2] Agile teams are not enough, if you are going to have an agile organization.  You need to embrace the concept of a virtual enterprise.

[3] The term was made popular by Tony Buzan.  His conception was of a radial tree with key descriptive words.

[4] A virtual corporation or enterprise is a temporary alliance of entities that join to share skills, core competencies and resources, in order to better respond to market or other sourced demand opportunities. According to Fuehrer, 1997 they are “…a temporary network of independent institutions, businesses or specialized individuals, who work together in a spontaneous fashion by way of information and communication technology, in order to gain an extant competitive edge. They integrate vertically, unify their core-competencies and function as one organization (or organizational unit).”

[5] Some critics devaluated Peter Lupus’s performance.  I am actually a fan of his.  Do you know that throughout the entire series, he was the only IMF member who never made a mistake?  He never made a noise that alerted and enemy or flubbed a quick clean-up an errant object in a dangerous situation.  He was 100% reliable and an absolute team player.  That is something to which every agile team member should aspire.

[6] As a Scrum master is described to be.

[7] Wouldn’t we all like to have the kind od resources that the Secretary of the United States could clandestinely provide us?

[8] Darn you caught me!

About Brian Lucas

In his life, Brian Lucas has been a coach, farm worker, forester, health care advocate, life guard, general contractor, mechanic, mixologist, musician/singer (in a rock group), salesman and teacher. Brian has worked as a project manager, technical marketer, methodologist, manager, software architect, systems designer, data modeler, business analyst, systems programmer, software developer and creative writer. These efforts include over a hundred hi-tech initiatives in almost every business and industrial sector as well as government and military projects. Among them, he designed and developed a quality assurance system for the first transatlantic fiber optic communications network, a manufacturing system for a large computer manufacture’s seven manufacturing centers, a data mining system for steel production, an instrumentation system for cable systems, defined requirements for government’s information systems and designed and developed human performance management systems. Brian has educated and mentored many over the years, designing programs to discover and develop talent. He has also lectured extensively to a variety of audiences. Brian is currently devoting as much time as possible to the innovation of business agility and human capital management along with the next generation of agile software development. As an amateur theoretical physicist he is working on joining general relativity and quantum mechanics through a multidimensional time corollary on string theory and negating the uncertainty principle with Louis de Broglie’s wave/particle hypothesis. He is also an avid blue-water sailor and wilderness backpacker. He enjoys billiards, boxing, chess, cooking, famous battle reenactments and war gaming, fencing, flying, gardening, horseback riding, martial arts (particularly Ninjutsu), philosophy and psychology, playing musical instruments (7 so far), poker, rapid-fire target shooting, reading (he tries to read a new book every night), painting with oils, scuba diving, skiing and recently writing novels.
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61 Responses to Mission Impossible Really was Agile

  1. Steven says:

    An amazing and ingenious perspective on agile Brian! Very easy to read and entertaining! It got me to think about everything I do and not just software development! Well done! I will read your other posts. I hope they are as much fun! -Steve

    • Brian says:

      You will have to tell me Steve if they are fun or not! Thanks for commenting.

    • Jordan says:

      Marcie sent me this link and I think Steven said it best here. Agile is NOT all about software development as IT introduced it. THAT was their MISTAKE. It’s about the business first. I too wish I had read this post 3 years ago.

  2. J. Kelly says:

    Brian this is such a great post. I never thought of it this way, but you are right they were agile. I suppose that one could argue that rather than being based on clever writers and the convenience of TV that their always positive outcomes were due to agility and being able to adapt rapidly when confronted with a new challenge (environment) and changing circumstances (foul-ups). Very educational, please continue to post more like this.

    • Prajkta says:

      What I like about this post is that it gives parity to the various types of thinking and encourages us to see Agile as part of a wider toolkit, rather than something that we do exclusively to the exclusion of all others. In doing this it discourages the tendency towards a dogmatic or ideological application of Agile. It is all too easy to say to account for things by saying, It’s because we’re [doing] agile’ rather than giving a meaningful explanation for the thinking behind our actions. One thing I think is missing is that key to the success of Agile is that Agile Thinking finds expression in tangible, pragmatic Agile Methods. To quote John Seddon, “ Management is all about method.” Or, in the words of Lou Reed, “Between thought and expression, lies a lifetime.” John Seddon: Systems Thinking in the Public Sector, Triachry Press 2008 p181p181

      • Brian says:

        Interesting comment! I would agree that agile is about producing results.

      • Eloise Baker says:

        With all due respect, I think Prajkta’s comment is rambling and that Brian’s reply is both a meaningful summation and kind. What I really like is Brian’s view that agile is all about adapting to the environment in the larger sense to be successful.

  3. Haley says:

    Brian,
    I was a fan of Mission Impossible and this post brought back memories. It also taught me something! I know more about agile than I thought I did. Agile is SMART thinking to me. That is something we should all try to do. Your analogy of Mission Impossible really drove home what you are talking about when you say agile. It made it easy to understand since I watched so many episodes. I guess that was SMART thinking on your part! Little did I know that I was getting an AGILE education as the same time. Super post, great blog! I am dying to see what you write next. -Haley

    • Brian says:

      Haley Agent 86 did not use SMART as much as you did here. All levity aside, a good definition of agile is smart thinking smartly done. Think about it!

  4. Can I use some of the content from your site on mine? I will make sure to link back to it 🙂

    • Brian says:

      Yes Michelle, just accredit it appropriately and carry the link and email me your URL. So were you a fan of Mission Impossible? -Brian

  5. J.Turner says:

    As a president of a hi-tek business, I always struggle with our changing environment and how to position our organization. Communicating the concept of agility to my executive team and the entire workforce is a constant challenge. We survive on the narrow edge of innovation. I often get frustrated with my executive team in particular, but they are necessary. This article communicates the concept of agility so well in such and understandable fashion that I am going to use this as a teaching tool in my company. As an exercise I am going to pick a new popular show each month and ask the team to tell me how it and the characters on it are agile. I am going to invite the entire work force to participate. It seems logical to me that if you get people thinking about something familiar and entertaining in a new light it will help them adapt to a new thought process more easily. I will let you know our results. That you for this article! I am going to read your other posts.
    Sincerely,
    J.Turner

  6. Bart says:

    Perfectly done, simple, direct, effective, informative – Great way to teach about agile! Glad you did not use the movie as a reference.

  7. Lou says:

    Another great post Brian. You set the bar high and keep it there!

    • Brian says:

      Thanks Lou it my readership that keeps me there! You are all one very intelligent audience!

      • Victor Appleton, Sr says:

        Idiots or people without lives are attracted to other idiots or people who use them shamelessly as you can see in other followings. Intelligent persons, or anyone of value regardless of their intelligence, are attracted to intelligence and honesty and positivity. That is why we are here Brian! Keep up the great work you are doing with this blog!

  8. G.Margle says:

    Ingenious analogy and well written! This is more beneficial to those of us not in IT, who are trying to make our businesses more agile. I agree with all the positive comments here. They are well merited. Please continue to explore the subject and theme of agile in business and not just software development.

  9. Bart says:

    Hi Brian! I really enjoyed reading this post. It was entertaining, easy to read and yet very informative. I noticed that as of late you are placing more emphasis on the entertainment factor in your posts and that they are shorter. Is this a deliberate trend? I would also like to ask you to expand on the topic of mind mapping and virtual corporations. This would seem to be a critical part of agility, at least from my perspective. Do you agree? Thanks for writing such a great blog.

    • Brian says:

      As an agilist I am always trying new things. Readers have overwhelmingly responded in a positive fashion to the entertainment flavor of the posts.

  10. CathyG says:

    I am an agile trainer and have been an educator in this field for 5 years. I hope you don’t mind if I borrow this splendid idea in my training sessions to help get the points across to my customers. You have such originality, I am very impressed.

  11. P.J.Jones says:

    Nathan forwarded me this post and I must say that this was a very interesting comparison. What I like most about this is that it has nothing to do with software development. It is all about organization and operation. Brian you are so very right agile did not originate in the agile manifesto. It was simple rediscovered.

  12. G.Margle says:

    I would just like to add to my previous comment that I believe agile applies to any business. Brian it would be a great post to have you identify the common attributes that apply to any agile business. That makes me pose the question are there specific agile aspects that are required or advantageous for individual sectors like legal or pharmaceuticals?

  13. Cheryl says:

    Oh Brian this is such a cool analogy! I could see you just doing a video of an old MI episode with pop up video balloon comments on what are the agile aspects. Do I get points for this idea?

  14. Perle says:

    Brian I feel you wrote this for me not Fran. I happen to know she has not read it yet. No on here will tell her that her name is on it. We are waiting for her to discover it on her own. I am so glad you wrote the positive side of the Mission Impossible theme you started with the post Is Agile Mission Impossible. This is a great way to educate us all. Some things are changing here that need to change. It all started when we began to pass around your blog link and posts. You are one heck of a writer and must be a remarkable man. Keep them coming!!!!!

    • Brian says:

      Wow you girls REALLY are being naughty. Someone tell her please! And no fighting or I have to send each of you to a blog corner. lol

    • Marcie says:

      Perle – Thank you, thank you, thank you for sending me this link. I was the best explanation of all the agile hot air I have been hearing over the last 3 years from IT over here. It made much more sense than all the stupid signs they have been plastering all over the walls. If someone had explained it to me/us in this way in the beginning, we could have understood this better and gotten behind some of these initiatives willingly. This writer Brian is a gem! How did Fran find him? I am going to pass this around here and see what happens. And hey – how are things at the hospital?

  15. Fran C. Zabrinski says:

    Oh my God! You actually dedicated a post to me and we have never even met! I have taken no end of teasing here because it took me so long to notice this. All I can say is that it has been very busy at the hospital. I want to thank you for dedicating this post to me. It is the first time someone has done something like that for me. I don’t know what I did to deserve it. It is a superb piece of work as I have come to expect from you and I am proud to have my name associated with it. And I can honestly say I understand and agree with everything you have said here in your liking of Mission Impossible to an agile operation. Thank you so very much! -Frannie

    • Brian says:

      My pleasure Frannie! You have been a loyal fan and started a very healthy set of comment threads. You definately deserved a tribute! You have brought a new dimension to the blog.

    • Sharon Velure says:

      This is proof the chivalry and courtesy is not dead. I have been following this blog since late last year. I enjoy the comments almost as much as the articles. They are intelligent and Brian responds to most of them and not just with trivial generalities. It obviously meant a great deal to Fran to have someone she didn’t know to dedicate a post to her. Brian did this because she took the time to read and comment and send it on to others. My impression is that Brian is not rewarding patronage, but thinking itself and thought sharing. Too few of us are generous and act with civility today. We don’t share what we know with others for free. Brian seems to do this all the time and quite naturally as I gather from his replies and offers to have readers contact him. He is someone I would like to know. -Sharon

  16. Haley says:

    Fran is impossible to live with since you dedicated a post to her. You will now have to dedicate one to each of us here to make up for it!!!!! Only kidding you’re the best!!!!!

  17. Leigh says:

    Hey Brian I am lobbying for the next dedication to be for me how about comparing agile to the TV series I Spy?

    • Brian says:

      I did like I Spy. Bob and Bill were cool dudes and great friends in real life. Their wives said they lived in a country of two and would often communicate without the need of speech. Nice to see that kind of friendship in Hollywood or anywhere else for that matter.

      • Kim says:

        I think Brian that people like you who value friendship and are as considerate and compassionate as you are will always have good friends.

  18. Norman Wallace says:

    After reading all the dry corporate targeted blogs and all the useless self promoting or fluffy ones, it is a real pleasure to finally read something both worthwhile and fun. Quite a tribute to the stars and writers of the series. Someone should send this link to them they’d probably get a kick out of it.

  19. gary-b says:

    I have to thank Sally for sending me this link. What a totally cool way to look at agile. I never thought that if I applied agile thinking to things outside my software development, it could be helpful or maybe even make me a better agile developer. Thanks Sally I owe you one and thanks Brian for writing such a super interesting blog!!!

  20. Chuck Gratz says:

    This is a brilliant analogy! I would never have thought of this and yet it fits so incredibly well. The heart and soul of any successful agile team is well rounded members that work together and have mutual trust. I am glad you stated this right up front. I am going to use this as an example of agile for my training classes if you don’t mind. I promise not to forget where I got it.

  21. Michael E. Smith says:

    What a FANTASTIC post about being agile! I have to admit that I am old enough to be a fan of the series and this was a nice tribute. When we stop looking at agile as a software development method and think of it in terms of business strategy as the author writes here you get the full benefit. As a consultant I’ve been preaching this for years, just not as eloquently as Mr. Lucas. Very clever analogy.

  22. Stennis says:

    Greatest series of all time, finally honored by the greatest post of all time! Just plain perfect!

  23. Olivia Shelly says:

    Brian you are a master blogger! Please post more often and start a Facebook and Twitter following. I will be the first to join!

  24. Wayne Lawler says:

    Perfect analogy Brian! I would have never thought of it myself! I will use this as an example of teaching agile thinking with your permission.

  25. Ben Palmer says:

    Brian what a great blog you have. This is the most creative explanation of agile I read so far. It is simple, very direct and easy to understand. Better still, it is familiar, so it readily sinks in. It seems that you can look at anything through your agile microscope and find the agile content. I hope you post again soon.

  26. Marie Dumont says:

    I never saw this television series. However, when I read your article Brian I became intrigued and watched a YouTube video of an episode. Your description was perfect. You have a magnificent inventive mind and a wonderfully creative way of looking at things. I have now read most of your blog and each post is a wonderful treasure. May I contact you by email?

  27. Marsha Kolby says:

    Hi Brian! I am a new scrum master and always looking for ways to be better informed about agile. I stumbled across your blog and this post caught my eye. I originally liked the movies. However, after reading your post I watched a few of the series on Netflix. I believe I was able to appreciate it even more because of your description. I am now a fan of the TV series even though it is a bit dated. The movies are glossy and have high production values without doubt. However, the TV series was better written and acted. I also learned more about being agile from watching it. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and perception. Would you mind if I emailed you a few questions?

  28. Ellen Mack says:

    I agree with Marsha this was a great example of agile thinking! I would like to add that you are a very good writer!

  29. sue-lee says:

    I agree also!!! Brian is a very cool writer and posts interesting original material. I love this blog!!!!!

  30. ShyGurl says:

    I love everything Brian writes! He seems to know everything about everything and is funny and kind and generous. Luv ta meet ya Brian!

  31. Consuelo Lopez says:

    This is a blog that I read for enjoyment as well as my knowledge enrichment.

  32. Marnie says:

    I agree pretty much with everyone here Brian, this was a great post! How do you get such ideas?

  33. F. Miller says:

    I found this post to be helpful in running my business. I have recently expanded my photography business and was running into issues with the new employees I hired. I was micromanaging them too much and not building a team. I was always a fan of the MI series, but I guess I did not learn the lessons Brian obviously did. This opened my eyes and as a bonding experience I started having my “TEAM” watch MI episodes over lunch where I sprung for pizza. We pick out how the MI team worked well together and try to apply the ideas to our own operations. Things are running much more smoothly now. Thanks Brian!

  34. Joe Sobenski says:

    Good lesson learned here!!! Agile thinking, as it is identified here, can be applied to any situation! Adapt and overcome all obstacles!!!

  35. Jughead says:

    Anything agile is MI at my dead head company. Can’t wait to get out of this place where managers are all idiots and suck every last dollar from the company just as the CEO/Owner does.

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