Hull Speed for Systems
TL;DR: Work smarter, not harder.
I have noticed that all systems have some natural capability for productivity, value delivery and quality. As the people in the system gain experience in the system, their performance will start reaching that systemic speed. Just like with a ship, this happens quite easily, but when the “hull speed”* is reached, the amount of effort / power to go faster dramatically increases, up to the point that a certain speed seems unsurmountable regardless of power expended. In systems, we can perceive this e.g. in overtime, which does not yield real benefit since the extra effort translates to more mistakes and other negative factors that detract from real progress.
I continually observe that also in the ball point game, where people psyche themselves to try harder, but they still get the same result.
Also, waterfall has a certain hull speed. No amount of pressure will make it deliver stuff faster.
Organisations, as they are composed, also have a hull speed.
The only way to go faster than the hull speed is to change the system into one that has a higher hull speed. E.g. starting to use Scrum. But any given set of practices also has a hull speed. And the only way to go faster (after the learning period) is to change the practices to ones with higher hull speed.
Thus, we can say that any action that does not affect the system’s structure and fundamental behavior in some way (and merely is an act to “shape up”, “increase discipline”, or “try harder”) is very unlikely to produce any lasting effort. Any benefits gained from such activities either produce negative side effects that ultimately cancel any positives, or disappear over time as the system returns to its hull speed.
* I know that hull speed is technically a little different from that, but a layman’s approach is good enough for this concept :).