Florence Nightingale, Agile Coach, Data Scientist

As an agile coach, I like to think that I can help teams to see their work in a new way and hence start to find better ways of working. I also like to think that my “Agile Experience” gives me an edge that people in the team will not have.

However I am sometimes humbled by the breakthroughs that teams make without me, or at least the insights that they have, that I did not see coming.

Even more, I am humbled when I see people in roles that I would not consider “agile,” where people work in an environment that I would not consider agile, yet where they display an amazing agile mindset AND matching set of practices.

One example was when I found out just how agile modern kindergartens are. Another is the nursing profession, where they have been having standups, visual management and self organising teams since before I was born.

I don’t know if many teams have a more efficient standup than the nurse/doctor shift change and I have seen few story walls as effective as the “big wall” that I saw when someone showed me an operating theatre planning space. Beyond that I cannot think of a self organising team that need to focus on quality more fiercely than a an operating theater team. There is not much point in the surgeon doing a good job if the anesthetist does not and I don’t think the team have the option or re-planning scope and deadlines while they put the operation on hold.

Anyway – I often think that, while we still think agile is new, people like Florence Nightingale were pioneering a lot of our “new practices and mindsets” quite some time ago.

Today I learned a little more about this amazing agile coach who made it her mission to revolutionize medicine (or more specifically patient care). Today I learned that she was also a data scientist who struggled to get others to recognise the valuable insights she wanted to share, based on robust statistical data that she had.

In order to communicate the “complex numbers” to her highly educated but data-poor stakeholders she had to quietly innovate new ways to visualise data, even without having a BI budget or data warehouse/BI tool.

If you want to be just as amazed as I was, you should read this article from Scientific American https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-florence-nightingale-changed-data-visualization-forever/.

I guess we can agree that Florence Nightingale was an amazing woman, but I think there is another lesson here for us agilistas and smarty-pants change managers.

Florence Nightingale was probably doing amazing work without being given the recognition she deserved in many situations, because she was not a general, a doctor or even a man. If that is true then there is also a risk that there are multiple Florence Nightingales in our own organisations, innovating and delivering amazing results, but without knowing what agile is, or being certified CTA (Certified as Truly Agile).

Even more likely, there are people doing great work on a smaller scale, without it being on our radar. I think this is probably one of the greatest lost opportunities for change – to identify the “bright sparks” who are already solving problems and creating value in our organisations.

What I take away from this is that we really need to identify the existing people who are making potentially small changes and give them more support, rather than focusing on the flaws of the organisation or the promised improvements of a new Framework or Way of Working.

Rather than building something new, let’s identify and strengthen what is already budding in our organisations and help people to flourish. We may not encounter Florence Nightingale but I bet we will find smart innovators struggling away in many places if we look hard enough. Especially if we look at where the work is being done on the ground, rather than looking at our own recommended changes.


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