Persistence hunting and the art of agile

2 min read

Thousands of years ago on the grassy plains of Africa before the bow and arrow, early hominids used to literally run their prey to death. Their prey was fast and cunning. But crucially it could only run short distances and if the hominids persisted they could eventually catch their prey by wearing it down.

When we are managing projects we need to take a similar approach. If we plan the hunt in great detail the prey will slip away almost immediately, easily able to sprint off whilst we remain static trying to second guess what will happen.

However if we get started quickly and persist, allow ourselves to focus on the objective of running the prey down, change direction as we need to, not panic if the prey gets ahead of us (as long as we can still see it). Then in time the project will slowly tire and we will get close enough to finish it. This model reflects how projects will start off volatile (full of energy and change) but as we progress and deliver, slowly become more manageable.

It is part of our evolutionary history and makeup to think like this. It seems absurd that we find this an alien way of thinking and must invent process to try to engage in a hunt. Instead all we need is to lean back on what made us successful in evolutionary terms.Then we will find that we have all the mental tools needed to work in this way.

Tools such as working as a team in relentless pursuit of our prey. Not knowing how long a hunt will last but remaining clearly focused on the objective. Changing and adapting to the conditions as we find them. Communicating across the team to effectively bring our collective resources to bear on the object of the hunt. Also and most importantly progressing at a sustainable pace, as that is the very nature of persistence hunting.

There can even be roles for specialists on the hunting team. Trackers who are adept in reading the prey’s mood and whims so we always stay with them. Sprinters who quickly catch up with the prey and fall back at other times. The management and leadership of the team is rotated and seamlessly switches from person to person as the hunt progresses.

So get Palaeolithic on your next project and remember that through agile techniques we are simply attempting to reconnect with our innate ability to work in this way.

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