Going Through the Motions

Photo by Drriss & Marrionn

Photo by Drriss & Marrionn

Agility requires discipline.  Not because agile frameworks prescribe certain events or practices to be followed but because it takes concerted effort to remember the why and not just the what or how.  Agile is not a rigorous process.  It's a set of values and principles to be upheld, but it remains open to interpretation within a given context.  Like a compass to guide one during a journey.

We do not want our teams to come to the office day in and day out going through a given routine, following rituals and upholding traditions--if teams do not understand why routines, rituals, and traditions exist, how do they know they're getting the right things from them?  It reminds me of the Pot Roast story:

A young woman is preparing a pot roast while her friend looks on.  She cuts off both ends of the roast, prepares it and puts it in the pan.  “Why do you cut off the ends?” her friend asks.  “I don’t know”, she replies.  “My mother always did it that way and I learned how to cook it from her.”

Her friend’s question made her curious about her pot roast preparation.  During her next visit home, she asked her mother, “How do you cook a pot roast?”  Her mother proceeded to explain and added, “You cut off both ends, prepare it and put it in the pot and then in the oven.”  “Why do you cut off the ends?” the daughter asked.  Baffled, the mother offered, “That’s how my mother did it and I learned it from her!”

Her daughter’s inquiry made the mother think more about the pot roast preparation.  When she next visited her mother in the nursing home, she asked, “Mom, how do you cook a pot roast?”  The mother slowly answered, thinking between sentences.  “Well, you prepare it with spices, cut off both ends and put it in the pot.”  The mother asked, “But why do you cut off the ends?”  The grandmother’s eyes sparkled as she remembered.   “Well, the roasts were always bigger than the pot that we had back then.  I had to cut off the ends to fit it into the pot that I owned.”

If continuous improvement could be automated like machine work, we would automate it.  But the heart of agility relies on people, and it can be wasteful for people to go through motions without understanding the underlying why.  Coaching helps remind us of the why so we can determine how to get the what that is needed.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.