Skip to content

Extreme Ownership: Agile in Unexpected Places 2

A friend recently gave me a copy of “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win”. I was expecting a book on leadership, and the book did deliver along those lines, but what impressed me, even more, were the Agile principles and concepts that the book contain. The Agile principles were not called out explicitly but they are definitely there. Below is a list of seven Agile and Lean concepts that I observed.

  1. Navy Seals work in cross-functional, self-organizing teams with an emphasis on continuous improvement.
  2. “Prioritize and Execute”1 corresponds to working on the highest priority item first and limiting work-in-progress (WIP)

    Even the most competent of leaders can be overwhelmed if they try to tackle multiple problems or a number of tasks simultaneously. The team will likely fail at each of those tasks. Instead, leaders must determine the highest priority task and execute. When overwhelmed, fall back on this principle: Prioritize and Execute.

  3. “Cover and Move”1  is directly related to principle seven of Lean Software Development — “Optimize the Whole”.

    Departments and groups within the team must break down silos, depend on each other and understand who depends on them. If they forsake this principle and operate independently or word against each other, the results can be catastrophic to the overall team’s performance

  4. “Simplicity”1 is a direct equivalent to principle ten from the Agile Manifesto.

    If the plan is simple enough, everyone understands it, which means each person can rapidly adjust and modify what he or she is doing. If the plan is too complex, the team can’t make rapid adjustments to it, because there is no baseline understanding of it.

  5. “Decentralized command”1 is almost identical to SAFe’s principle #9 of “decentralize decision-making”.  It focuses on why over what.

    A mission statement tells your troops what you are doing. But they have got to understand the why they are doing it.  When the subordinate leaders and the frontline troops fully undersand the purpose of the mission, how it ties into strategic goals, and what impact it has, they can then lead, even in the absence of explicit orders.

  6. The Seal’s post-operation debrief is very similar to Agile’s retrospective with the focus on continuous improvement.
  7. One of my favorite chapters talks about discipline and craftsmanship. It reminds me of how important good engineering practices such as unit tests are necessary to produce high-quality software.

    Instead of making us more rigid and unable to improvise, this discipline actually make us more flexible , more adaptable, and more efficient. It allowed us to be creative. When we wanted to change plans midstream on an operation, we didn’t have to recreate and entire plan. We had the freedom to work within the framework of our discplined procedures.


1 Extreme Ownership has four laws of combat. They are covered explicitly above but are “Cover and Move”, “Simple”, “Prioritize and Execute”, and “Decentralized Command”.

Published inAgile in Unexpected PlacesAgile Outside Software

Comments are closed.