Just to introduce myself, I'm a software developer. I've been working in agile environment for past few years, which made me notice some changes in the way people around me handle their daily tasks.

In a traditional way, you plan and schedule your tasks so that you can synchronize your activities with other actors or events. Going agile usually means relying on "best effort" concept and delaying decisions (see Lean Principle #4 – Defer Commitment), which results in a spontaneous behavior:

Are you hungry?

Yep, lets go for a lunch!

Thinking of information systems, most of them can be (actually should be) designed without time-based synchronization. Using timers is a sign of poor design unless you need to represent a real-world timing need. For example, you can hardly implement this without a time tracking device:

Wake me up at 06:00.

But this you can implement easily:

Wake me up when sun rises.

You simply poll or listen to a light sensor, no time tracking is required. Adding some queues allows you to handle any kind of day-to-day situations. Let's see some examples:

Example 1: synchronize for dinner


My workday ends at 17:30. The dinner is better ready by 18:00.

Wife: estimates the time required to cook and polls the clock to start the activity on time.

With polling:

Wife calls me: Everyone here is getting hungry. Are you leaving for home yet?

Me: Yes, getting hungry, too. You can start cooking. or No, have to finish something. Dine without me.

With notifications / listeners:

Getting hungry and tired. Text my wife: Leaving. You can start cooking.

Example 2: dentist appointment


Me: Can you take me next Tuesday at 08:00?


Me: Can you take me now?

Dentist: Sure, I'll be expecting you. or No, call me later.

Notification and queue:

Me: Can you take me now or you are busy?

Dentist: Busy. I'll let you know before I take the last patient currently enqueued.

Example 3: flying away for a weekend


Me: Wife, call the airport. Tell them to fuel the plane by 09:00 on Saturday.

With a notification and queue:

Me: Kids, how about a weekend in YOUR-FAVORITE-PLACE-HERE?

Wife: I just called the airport. They will fuel the plane as soon as they can.

Me: OK, we're waking up when the sun rises and leaving for the airport after breakfast.

As these examples show, it is possible to completely avoid time-based synchronization. It was hardly imaginable 50 years ago, but it's real today. Now that have a way to notify and poll on demand (some people literally live with a phone in their hand), isn't time-based activity synchronization just an old custom?

Final thought: time tracking will still have to be used for scientific purposes. In some cases it, too, can be avoided, though. For example, performance of an engine is commonly measured in time-based units (horsepowers), but aircraft engines are compared by delivered thrust (a time-independent unit), which can be easily adopted to automotive engines, too.

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    $\begingroup$ It's a neat idea, but just throwing an idea and asking is to build a whole world around it is bit too much. And I'm not sure it's even a worldbuilding question. Looks a lot like a question about real world without an intent to build a fictional world to me. Could you narrow it down and explain what world you are building? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Mar 22 '17 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ Yes it is possible to avoid or at least reduce planning ahead. Our first cousins the chimpanzees do this. On the other hand, planning ahead allowed us to develop our culture and civilization much more than the chimpanzees did. About the engines... Thrust and power are two very different things. The corresponding measure in automobile engines is torque and yes, automobile motorizations are routinely compared based on torque. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 22 '17 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ Wait wait wait...is defer commitment really a lean principle? So all this 'agile management' BS was just paying someone to tell you to procrastinate?!?!?! You could get that advice from any 20 year-old college student, who goes to school for that? $\endgroup$ – kingledion Mar 22 '17 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion The art is to make people think it's something new and important and difficult to understand, so that they have to pay you to tell them how to do it ;) $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Mar 22 '17 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ @BorisShchegolev The problem is that it doesn't look like you are building a fictional world. It looks like you would like to know if this would be feasible in the real world and what the implications would be. Is there a story you have in mind where you want to incorporate this principle on a greater scale? If so it would be good if you could use the "edit"-button at the end of your text to provide this information. Otherwise this question might get put on hold until you provide the necessary information. BTW chat is a great place to discuss ideas, on the main site you need specific questions $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Mar 22 '17 at 12:17

It's pretty utopian and can't work in the real, modern, world.

Let's take the dentist: When that dentist is free, how long will it take to get there and what does the dentist do in the mean-time? If you decide to go to the dentist and wait for him to be available, how do you use that waiting time?

Your wife: Is your wife on call, waiting for you to tell her when to start cooking? I'm pretty sure my partner would have something to say about that.

My project manager is wanting me to perform tasks before the financial year starts in April. I can't tell him that it'll be done when I've finished it.

If you're flying somewhere on vacation, you're depending on a lot of factors all being there to allow you to do that and they all have to be coordinated in some way. I'd hate to think what would happen if the plane was ready when the last person completed their task.

The modern, technical world revolves around effective, structured time management in order to function.

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  • $\begingroup$ You are exactly describing the traditional approach. This is not how agile works - and it does work. Your manager has to prioritize tasks that have to be delivered sooner, and you provide your best effort to finish the tasks. $\endgroup$ – Boris Schegolev Mar 22 '17 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ As for other examples, synchronization on current status may be a far simpler choice than scheduling. If you think about it, a lot of people actually practice it already. $\endgroup$ – Boris Schegolev Mar 22 '17 at 12:08
  • $\begingroup$ @BorisShchegolev. Could you perhaps add an example of how Agile would work when it (a) intersects with the real world on multiple levels and (b) everyone is Agile, not just the rich guy? For instance, if dinner is going to be fish & chips, how does agile affect fishing trawlers, fish wholesalers, potato farmers, hauliers delivering crop/catch, regional supermarket warehouse, local supermarket shelves & checkout staff, wife going to supermarket. Also what if husband phones saying "I'm coming home" and wife replies "I'm off to see a movie and won't be back for hours"...? Movie is on a schedule? $\endgroup$ – DrBob Mar 22 '17 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ @DrBob Most of what you mention already works on best effort principle. Fishermen catch all the fish they can process, wholesalers sell all they can sell, warehouse stores whatever it can. What does not fit will have to use a different warehouse somewhere else. Simple as that. As for wife going out: common practice. Me: "OK, I'll grab something on my way home. Did you walk the dog? OK, I'll do that, too." What's the issue? :) $\endgroup$ – Boris Schegolev Mar 22 '17 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ @BorisShchegolev. Where I come from the cinema runs 13 films simultaneously, but those will be 10 to 13 different films. So we have tons of choice on WHAT to see at 19.00 on a Saturday, but not much choice on WHEN to see a specific film. If you want to see Lego Batman, it is only on at 10.00, 13.00, 16.00 and 19.00. $\endgroup$ – DrBob Mar 22 '17 at 13:56

For the dentist specifically

The dentist can see 10 patients a day, lets say. Let us assume that patients calling for appointments are random and normally distributed about a mean of $\mu=10$ patients wanting appointments every day and a variance of $\sigma^2=4$.

That means, the chances of the doctor sitting idly in his office with no patients on a given day is (numbers courtesy of scipy.stats.norm):

>>> norm.pdf((9-10.)/2)

The chances of 11 patients calling in per day is similarly

>>> norm.pdf((11-10.)/2)

and 12 patients

>>> norm.pdf((12-10.)/2)

By my quick math, that means about 15% of patients can't be seen on any given day, and 15% of the doctor's time is wasted.

Those numbers aren't bad, necessarily, but there is no way the variance is that low. Can you really expect the same number of people will call in for appointments on Friday afternoon as Tuesday morning? A dentist that ran his business this way would alienate customers, and waste his time. He would be out of business soon. You can't run a business like this, so unfortunately, the on-demand Uber and Amazon model has a ways to go before it takes over dentistry.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good points stated. Admittedly, I don't know much about dentistry. Although, I think there are other activities involved except for taking patients. Maybe some paperwork, taxes, supplies, communication with insurance companies, etc. All this can be done in the "free" time. $\endgroup$ – Boris Schegolev Mar 22 '17 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ @BorisShchegolev Not every paperwork can wait until you have time on your hands because there is no patient waiting right now. And it may take longer than a patient wants to wait. Communication with insurance companies would be problematic too, as they would incorporate the same principle and you need luck to communicate with them. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Mar 22 '17 at 12:25
  • $\begingroup$ Insurance companies have people dedicated solely to communication with partners and customers. The worst thing that could happen is you will end up waiting in a queue for several minutes. At least it's supposed to be that way. $\endgroup$ – Boris Schegolev Mar 22 '17 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ @BorisShchegolev - wrong. The worst thing that could happen is that the dentist does not have the capacity to take your appointment. $\endgroup$ – Daniel M. Mar 22 '17 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ @BorisShchegolev "waiting in a queue for several minutes." really? Have you ever contacted insurance company? Was it ever only a matter of minutes? And your dentist visits are so short? I envy you so much, but this does not meet reality of most people. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Mar 22 '17 at 14:00

Agile works for software development, but it's no way for society to function as a whole... lets be honest, a lot of developers find it hard to function in an agile environment, and we're generally considered to be somewhat intelligent. I can't imagine a society where everyone was consistent enough for anything other than chaos to occur once your design was implemented.

I admire the idea, especially for something within your own home (I'm designing an AI based on a similar concept), but for society at large I think it's a bit of a stretch. People like stability, and knowing that they can turn up to the dentist at 2pm and that it'll take a maximum of half an hour is important for various reasons (planning mostly, but sometimes foreknowledge that no matter how bad the trip may be, it's only going to be 30 minutes at most).

As an agile evangelist myself, I appreciate the concept, but it's not really applicable to the real world, there's too many variables to take into account, I think.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think a story about an attempt to implement this, and all the issues that occurred, would be an interesting read for sure. $\endgroup$ – Callum Bradbury Mar 22 '17 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ Plus, there is a good reason(alot of them actually) why almost all of the guidelines say that the team size in agile shouldnt exceed 9. Agile just doesn't work in a big enviroment. $\endgroup$ – Daniel M. Mar 22 '17 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ And @Secespitus said I'm not asking about a fictional world [sarcasm]. You are right, people in general are not that smart and too lazy to adapt on a daily basis :) $\endgroup$ – Boris Schegolev Mar 22 '17 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielM. All proposed situations operate withing a single family (a team) interacting with outside world. If your family member count exceeds 9 then you are doomed :) $\endgroup$ – Boris Schegolev Mar 22 '17 at 13:11

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