Flexible in life does not mean Agile at work

I made my new year’s resolution a couple of months ago and I couldn’t wait until the new year to start (you’ll understand why when I tell you what it is).

My resolution is to follow through. Two words that, in my world, are a huge challenge. Ideas are cheap for me, I can trade them like currency. They are never lacking in any situation, any conversation. In fact, I actually have to work hard to rein them in. A friend once told me to stop spouting my ideas at her when she was catching me up and telling me about some challenges she was facing at the time. “What?!” I asked, “what do you mean?”

“Ya, I can’t just tell you how it’s going, you give me unsolicited solutions. I don’t need you to solve my problems”

Whoa. (We’re still friends!)

You know those moments when someone says something small, and it shines a light on your perception of yourself, and you realize that how you thought you were is not how others see you? Ya, that.

My resolution is to take an idea and follow it through. To the bitter end. Through the not fun valley of Making a Plan, through Checklist central and Process City. That’s how I thought of it. Trying to be methodical, and disciplined. Follow through is hard! Some people call it delivering, people write about how to do it. I’ve spent the past 12 months learning that discipline is not one of my strong points (See frequency of my blog posts). If I have to do something, it feels really hard to do alone. And reach the end feeling good. I don’t want to just feel good at the end though, I want to feel energised, ready to tackle the next thing. Part of a team, doing cool sh*t. To do that, I need people. Others get me energised & motivated, whether it’s exercise, or a new project.

My technique for making sure I work out? Sign up for a class of something. That way I’m accountable, I’m on the list, I have to go. I’m taking a similar approach with follow through: get other people involved. Suddenly, it’s not just me knowing I didn’t do that thing I said I was going to. Suddenly, if I don’t do that thing, it contributes to my reputation as a flake. I don’t want to be a flake!

I want to be a collaborator, a coworker, cocreator. I want to work with other people, foster community, be excited about what I’m doing. That’s what that means to me.

Hence, the resolution. It’s one thing to resolve though.

And this takes me to Agile. With a capital A.

Until I embarked on Agile (product development), the recipe for arriving at my goal was pretty straightforward and I had been doing things this way for awhile. As I’ve said before, solo consultant here, ready and able to be a one man show, pulling others along behind me, to create a whirlwind of discipline and action. I had an idea, found someone who could build it, and did it. But I found that the build was imperfect, there was usually something missing, or what I saw in my head didn’t translate into the product. I’m thinking of Storybox here. Classic example (not dead yet!)

Follow Through means a few different things to me. This resolution also represents a change in the way I want to work. Towards co-ownership. Towards a team approach, team buy-in. I don’t want projects to feel like a struggle anymore. I’m ok if I have to struggle, but with others, not against.

I wrote a post about Social Leadership in Practice, a project I am working on with Kate. Well, last week we started the project, in an Agile product development manner, with Sam kindly coaching us to get us started. First thing to do, user stories.

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Day 2 of User Stories

Now, I’m a person who completely supports the idea of Agile. The theory looks fantastic. People working togeher, testing, iterating, reviewing, getting feedback from a community. Wow. I’m in. I love it. Of course, acceptance in theory meant my guard was down when it came to reality.  Writing user stories forced my mind in a direction I a) wasn’t aware that I would resist b) back to how I felt when I was forced to sit down at a desk and do math homework in school. In short, writing these made me feel like my head was in a vise.

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Definitely not into User Stories

I kept thinking: I already know what I want to do! I have a vision, I have a collaborator, I know exactly what I want. All the ingredients are already here. How can I make these user stories say something that leads me to be able to do what I want to do?

Remember I mentioned before, those moments where your perception of yourself is challenged? I had one of those. I started asking questions, challenging, resisting! I realized that I don’t really take users into account. I design for me. To try new approaches, new ways of doing things. Projects are an excuse to try out different ways of getting a message across.

I’m not saying I’m completely converted. However, the exercise started us (Kate and I) in a dialogic process, and towards a truly co-owned outcome. It gave us permission to try something out, do something fun that fulfills what we want to do, but also is ‘quick and dirty’ enough that we can put it out rapidly, and see what response we get. It also took us in a direction that I think can be broken down into many smaller, iterable bits, just from one story.

And we have something like 15. So we have fodder for awhile. But we’ll need to keep revising and writing user stories. Simplifying them.

I’m a nomad, I explore, I work remotely sometimes with people I have never met, on projects I don’t understand. Flexible is one of the words I use to describe myself. I definitely can go with the flow. But Agile is a different matter. Just starting this way of working exposed my inner iron. I definitely have a stubborn streak!

Trying new ways of working can be a chore. It required my open mind and a modicum of self awareness, self understanding, to be able to observe why I was reacting the way I was. That I was reacting. That I was resisting. And to allow myself to do that. I told myself “I only have to try it, that way I can say I did.” I said I could do it once or twice and see what happened. I only really understood what the potential was yesterday, after sitting, stewing with it, hating it for a week.

Sometimes, you just have to turn your brain off. Let things percolate in the back there, unseen, until you pick it back up again and something clicks.

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