What makes you agile? Part Two

Recently, while visiting a client site, I was excited to see a large breakout room labeled “Agile Room”.  You can only imagine my surprise when I walked in the door.  I saw a series of cubicles.  I saw people working very quietly and independently.  I saw a scantly populated dusty board with only a few sticky notes and one single column labeled “Done”.  When I asked about the naming of the room,  they replied,

“Oh, well, we just call ourselves ‘agile’ because we deliver faster by not testing at all.”

Doh!

But all is not lost (on you, not them) because this experience got me thinking more about just what does make you agile.  If you read my last blog entry, I hinted that when you really start to understand agile disciplines, when you really start walking the walk, it is hard to not to look at any project in your life with an agile mindset.  What, you don’t believe me?  Follow me…

I keep telling my wife “work in progress” or WIP is a form of waste.  Unfortunately, she just thinks I’m dodging my work tasks.  But don’t worry, I’ve won her over before and will do it again.  This year, we have the very fortunate blessing of being able to take a family beach vacation and our 10 year anniversary trip.  Of course that also means a lot of research and planning and finding bargains.  I was quickly overwhelmed trying to find the perfect destination with the perfect price for both trips.  I was having trouble remembering which deals were better for which location.  Time for some lean thinking!  Rather than pay the cost for context switching, I focused on one vacation at a time.  Recognizing the value of the 10 year anniversary trip and how much it would appease the wife, I started with that trip.  I was able to get immediate feedback and deliver results quickly.  Once I had the highest priority trip booked, I could plan around that to add our family vacation.  Why would I do it any other way?  This approach works just as well with “honey do” lists and chores.  Prioritize the highest value tasks and focus on one at a time.  Deliver results and reap rewards.  You’ll thank me later.

Speaking of my wife, she works as a teacher at a local pre-school.  The principal has the teachers meet every morning before class and she presents an inspirational story or topic. This is a fine practice, but it could be improved. Later, I hear my wife say some classes are complete chaos and others are well oiled machines.  They have six classes at each age level, so there is some definite opportunities for sharing.  I suggested they change the morning meeting from a presentation by the principal to more of a daily standup.  That way they could discuss what worked well for their class yesterday, what challenges they have today, and ask for help or advice from the other teachers.  Something very simple, but something which could have a dramatic impact on the teacher control in the classroom and subsequently the educational experience of the children.

I know, I know, you are tired of LEGO analogies, but I think this is a good one.  (Maybe there is a good reason LEGO sets are such the ultimate toy?) My daughter got a “girl” LEGO set, complete with pink and purple colors and everything.  It is from the “Friends” series and this one is a quite impressive dream house.  It is supposed to take kids aged 12 and up days to complete.  As you know, there are always instructions on how to build any of the LEGO sets.  Think of this as the documentation.  The minimalistic documentation focuses on the experience and in fact provides no words, just pictures, or solution designs.  This LEGO set was divided into two halves, book one and book two.  This is kind of like deciding to have two releases.  What is really cool is the books or releases are further broken down into rooms or sprints.  Each room in and of itself is a completely usable toy on its own and requires no further building to be enjoyed.  Sound familiar?  After building three rooms and adjoining them, you have the first floor or release one complete.  Then this process repeats for the second floor or release two.  I think you get the idea.  Unfortunately, after excitedly trying to explain iterative development and increments to my 7 year old daughter and this amazing analogy, she was simply too eager to start playing with the house.  And even more unfortunately, she delivered this solution in just 4 hours when I was expecting her to enjoy it (stay occupied) over 4 days.

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year?  If you did, how did you decide what to do?  If you are like me, it kind of felt just like building a prioritized backlog.  As I thought about what and where I would focus this year, I asked myself how much value each item would actually provide to my life.  Very quickly I saw which things would be nice to do or learn, but which would not enhance myself or my family.  But don’t lose those items, keep them on the backlog and re-evaluate them next year!

My daughter is learning to play the piano.  It is such a beautiful instrument.  I can only hope someday she will dazzle me with delicate renditions while I relaxingly sip some wine.  Well that and I hope I can actually afford a real piano someday!   A few months ago, I noticed she was very focused on memorizing the entire songs for her recital rather than reading from the music sheet.  She was struggling a bit and trying to do the whole song each time through.  Naturally, I applied my incremental approach to the problem and broke the song down into smaller chunks.  And you know what?  She was playing the introduction perfectly in no time at all!  Then we added the verse and then the chorus.  I had her play all the parts together each time, building on the original increments. She was ecstatic when she realized the rest of the song, from the piano playing perspective, was just repetition of the verse and the chorus.  The product release, or song, was ready for the winter recital and she performed brilliantly.

So, you see, opportunities to apply lean and agile principles are all around us.  I can’t help but notice them.  And that’s what makes me agile.

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