The Best of British

I’m in Toronto for Agile 2008 with Pascal Van Cauwenberghe to present two sessions: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Why Me? and Les Neuf Cases (known as ‘The Nine Boxes‘). Being away from home is great because it gives me time and distance to reflect on my Agile Enablement gigs both past and present.

Nothing is Impossible

Imagine. You’re a new recruit for the first Agile team in your global organisation. It’s Day 6 of your first ever iteration. The team has been working late for the past couple of evenings. The team believes things can change. The team’s doing their best to deliver.

Team in Action

(The open plan office is empty but for the one team still busy at work.)

Coach: A core Agile principle is sustainable pace.
Team: (Silence)
Coach: Deathmarching isn’t agile.
Developer: (Silence. Then) Everyone outside the team is watching. (Long pause) They want us to fail.
Team: (Stoic silence)

One Ring to Rule Them All

The next day, I speak to the project manager on the team and raise the issue of the pressure the team feels they’re under. ‘There are others in the organisation who want us to fail,’ I say. He remains silent but for a moment then replies with a bold smile, ‘That’s because they’re afraid of what will happen when we succeed.’ We both knew then that success was by no means certain. What we were certain of, however, was that the team would try their hardest to make it a success.

That was a defining moment for everyone on the team. Their stoicism was something so much stronger than an individual’s desire to prove others wrong. This was camaraderie in action, each member united with one another by the weightiest of burdens they were helping to carry. Hope. The hope that things can change for the better.

Hate Something, Change Something, Make Something Better

Over the next few days after my conversation with the team on that fateful summer evening, the team started leaving work on time. They understood that working late was merely hiding problems due to the way teams have always worked in their organisation. They knew that becoming agile meant maintaining a sustainable pace and addressing difficult problems head on instead of working longer hours.

Never Say Never

Fast foward to the end of the three-iteration-long release. The technical lead who reviewed the code delivered described the quality as ‘some of the highest quality code’ he’d ever seen. After four weeks in end-to-end testing, only one defect was found.

It’s a humbling experience to work alongside folks determined to learn and change in spite of being surrounded by a sea of cynicism and resistance. That’s what makes my heart sing as an Agile coach. Do something that makes your heart sing. Today.

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