If we want to teach agile, we should be agile in our teaching

I was helping someone make some improvements in their team recently, to be more “agile.”

I made the point, almost apologetically, that we had changed direction a few times and iterated in what we were doing. I started with a workshop, then some coaching, then we had some team meetings and then we seemed to succeed.

My friend replied “I guess you have to be agile when you are a coach.”

I said yes and laughed, but then I thought about it.

Sometimes people say “let’s be agile” when they mean “let’s drop any pretence of planning or process and just charge forward.” This is not really a recipe for success and nor is it really agile. It is more like taking a “bull headed approach” to success; charging forward like a bull, hoping you only collide with things that you can smash your way through.

What we did was to create a messy first draft of a plan and then put that into action. Once we started acting though, we kept the goal in mind while we reacted to what we learned in order to keep moving forward. More like a yacht tacking against the wind, than a bull charging down the road.

Unlike a yacht though, we did not just steer ourselves, rather we stopped to check with other people and started involving multiple individuals, allowing their interaction to guide us.

We did have some discipline in clarifying our goals, identifying and communicating dependencies and validating success, which helped a lot. In fact this allowed us to sense and respond to multiple new perspectives and the keep moving while we kept improving.

It was a bit messy, but it was successful because of they way we dealt with the mess to finally create some order. Anti-agile would be starting with order that results in mess, but agile is embracing the mess that exists and using it to create order.

So now I think we should say it without laughing.

If you want want to teach people to be agile, you need to be agile in the way you teach them.


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