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What’s A Taxi Rank Got To Do With Agile?

A little while back on a trip to Las Vegas I went to see a great show, upon leaving the show on my way back to hail a taxi en-route to my hotel I encountered rather surprisingly a huge queue, probably a good 150-200 people deep. I joined in and as I looked around 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.

As I watched the queue of people slowly dissipate, I could see that there was a Valet who was controlling everything, the taxi’s would not move to the head until called by the Valet and the passengers would not approach a taxi until called out to do so. Furthermore, the passengers would not open the taxi door as they waited for the Valet.

This was all extremely time consuming, even more so when the Valet was slightly distracted for any reason as the passengers and taxi drivers had to wait for him to signal them to move on. Essentially things were only done when the Valet said so.

This all caused a lot of frustration for the waiting passengers and no doubt taxi drivers too, as the longer they waited the less time they had to earn a living.

This whole situation led me to think of Euston Railway Station in London, UK. Euston is a large mainline station where at peak times there are hundreds of people getting taxis. But the one big difference is the queue is always fairly short as people move through it quite rapidly.

I considered why this was the case as the taxi rank in London also had someone with a similar role to the Valet, it dawned on me however that the key word was similar. The Valet in London does not control, direct, or manage the queue but simply guides the whole process. The taxi drivers move themselves to the head of the queue when they see the customers are ready and it is safe to do so, and 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.

So what has all of this got to do with Agile? You may already have worked out that 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.

So, if you work with teams allow them to self organise and empower your team, do not direct and control them. If you let go and allow them to truly self-organise then you may just get astonishing results and 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 with joy.