Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Agile Recipe; on second thought...Not

I have been asked recently to provide a recipe for how to do Agile. I am sympathetic with this request, but I feel it misses an important point.
First, why am I sympathetic. Well, because I look at Agile as an art form, like playing the violin or learning Hapkido (Korean version of Aikido). It is an art that one continually learns. And, at the beginning one feels lost. How do I learn this thing that seems so strange? How do I start to make un-ugly noises from the violin? And the teacher must give you instructions of some sort, and you start to play. Perhaps ugly at first, but you start to play. And then you start to be…as a friend pur it recently, you start to suck less.
Of course, Agile is more like a team sport than playing a violin. But it is still an art. Where one starts with little skill and builds and builds. Agile is like the "ballet with force" that is basketball.
OK, So how do you learn to play basketball?. Well, start by dribbling. (Which one can break down.) Learn to do a layup. (Which one can break down.) But the real thing about basketball is not the individual skills. The real juice is learning how to play as a team. To improvise on the court. To maintain your confidence if the other team dunks on you twice in a row.
In basketball, there are a few set plays that one can diagram. With perhaps many variations. One cannot just follow a recipe in playing championship basketball.
This is where giving the recipe can mislead. By giving a recipe the coach can suggest to the beginner “all you have to do is follow the recipe and all will be well”. Maybe with an ordinary dish, but not if you want a meal that dazzles. And don’t you aspire to produce something that delightful?
If you have studied an art, you know that great artists will tell you that being really good requires a certain something that is hard to define. In Agile, we often say that you must "get it". You must start to reflect, in your every thought and decision, Agile values and principles. And without these values and principles, just following the cookbook or the recipe will make only a small improvement.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Leadership: Getting us there

A few thoughts after reading this:

We always need leadership to help us through the many hard patches, and on to ultimate success.

It is hard to say what is the main thing that leads to success, and one supposes that the most essential element varies by situation. Some important elements are...
* passion for the vision
* perseverance
* courage
* helping others overcome their roadblocks
* assuring that most of the team is winning and that few things lead to tradeoffs where one person is hurt

We also mention the creation of Ba (Japanese), which represents that context or place in which new knowledge is created. Only by creating knowledge can the seeming constraints be transcended, and success becomes possible.

Many people possess one or more of these skills. It is not having the skill or skills, it is bringing it all to fruition so that the Team reaches the goal.

Still, there remains that element of magic, where somehow some make it up the river and others do not. Here's to those magic ones, who make it up the river more often than not.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Knowing where to go

To me, the essence of leadership boils down to two things.

1. Knowing what needs to be done.

The ability to identify and articulate what needs to be done is enormously useful.

In most business situations, it means understanding the customer. It means focus on a few relatively important things. It means explaining this to other people in a persuasive way.

There are, of course, a whole bunch of skills related to understanding the customer. Understanding the customer is so very difficult, perhaps partially because it is an act of selection and editing (not everything that a customer might want, but those few essential things). Knowing what needs to be done can, for example, be claimed to be partially a financial understanding (ROI and NPV), but I think not mainly in most cases.

A listing of skills is not essential. Decomposing "what a leader does" into parts misleads as much as it helps. It is how the cake is put together and how it bakes as much as any list of ingredients. And finally it is in the eating only that its true meaning is fulfilled.

Once one has a vision, it is necessary to communicate this to others. So that they are inspired and encouraged. So that they act. Knowing is not enough; acting in such a way that the Team gets started is part of setting the initial direction. Imagine Moses setting off.

2. Getting us there

This is discussed in the next blg post.

This line of thoughts was opened up upon seeing this site: