A little while back on a trip to Las Vegas I went to see a great show. After the show, I encountered a surprisingly large taxi queue, a good 150-200 people deep. As I joined it I noticed that there was an equally large fleet of taxis! More than enough to cope with the demand. I was puzzled as to why the fleet was so big and yet there was little movement in the queue of people. As I watched the queue of people slowly dissipate, I could see that there was a Valet controlling everything.
The taxis would not move to the front of the que until called by the Valet. And the passengers would not approach a taxi until called to do so. Furthermore, the passengers would not open the taxi door, as they waited for the Valet do this for them. This was all extremely time consuming and caused a lot of frustration for the waiting passengers and no doubt taxi drivers too. It stopped the job from being done.
Watching this, I started to compare the situation to the taxi queue at London Euston – a large mainline station where at peak times there are hundreds of people needing taxis. But, there is one big difference, the queue is always short and people move through it quickly. I considered why this was the case. The London taxi rank also had someone with a similar role to the Las Vegas Valet.
The key word here is similar. The Valet in London does not control, direct, or manage the queue but simply guides the whole process. The taxi drivers move themselves when they see the customers are ready and it is safe to do so. As well as this, the customers walk towards the taxis as they approach, open the door themselves and hop in. The London Valet only gets involved if there is a bottleneck and in this instance, he removes that bottleneck. All in all, this leads to a smooth flowing and fast queuing system.
What has taxi rank got to do with Agile?
You may already have worked it out. In London the whole process is self-organising, the team (customers and taxi drivers) organise themselves, they manage their own workload and decide on how best to do it. The Valet in London acts like a Scrum Master, he guides the team but does not control them and he does not tell the team how to do the work. To be precise he doesn’t tell the taxis when to move to the head of the queue or tell the customers how to get to the taxis or get into them, but when necessary he does remove any impediments that stop the smooth flow of the queuing system.
This is all a far cry from the command and control nature and the micro-management approach that was taking place in Las Vegas.
What’s the lesson here?
If you work with teams, allow them to self-organise and empower your team, do not direct and control them. If you release control and allow them to truly self-organise then you may get astonishing results – the team will move a lot faster. Maybe we should tell the taxi rank operators in Las Vegas, I’m not sure however that the Valets would be pleased to be losing their one dollar tip, but I can guarantee that the customers and drivers would be over the moon.
Author: Tom Reynolds