The Wall

As an Agile Coach, the greatest challenge for me on any Agile Enablement gig is The Wall. And I don’t mean the Project Wall (aka Kanban Board), the one with the iteration backlog on display for all to see, where stories and tasks take their turn journeying across the columns of TODO and In Progress before finally reaching DONE.

The Wall I speak of is a metaphorical one. Everyone has one. One person’s Wall may well be different from someone else’s. I can only share with you what mine looks and feels like. The most important thing is to be able to recognise yours when you come up against it. Recognising the Wall is one small, yet significant step towards winning the struggle against yourself.

I know I’ve reached the Wall when:

  • I’ve stopped listening.
  • I refuse to ask for feedback.
  • I refuse to ask for help.
  • I’ve stopped learning.
  • I think I’m right and everyone else is wrong.

The Wall at its most extreme means:

  • I’ve run out of answers.
  • I feel helpless.
  • I feel like running away and leaving it all behind.
  • I’ve lost hope.
  • I question everything I represent: from my areas of expertise and skills to my years of experience.

In summary, The Wall is when self doubt gnaws at your bones trying to get to the marrow. It’s when you refuse to face the brutal facts about yourself and start making up stories in the hope of magicking away The Wall through make-believe.

Agile and The Wall

Agile Enablement is tough because Agile demands continuous improvement. Continuous Improvement means being on the constant lookout for problems and facing the brutal truths when we find them so that we can deal with them through process and/or people improvement. It’s only natural that Continuous Improvement at an organisational level results in growing pains on a grand scale.

Rules about The Wall

  1. You have to confront The Wall.
  2. You have to develop an understanding of how The Wall has come to be in order to identify ways of getting over it.
  3. You have to climb over The Wall. You cannot just skirt or workaround it.

Dealing with The Wall as an Individual

Here’s what I do when I find myself or a team member facing The Wall:

  1. Take a break.
  2. Find a quiet place to sit and think.
  3. Find out how others are feeling about the situation in a 1-2-1.
  4. Ask for feedback.
  5. Perform a version of a temperature reading.
  6. Put checks in place and assess progress.
  7. Rinse and repeat.

Dealing with The Wall as a Team

  1. Take a break.
  2. Hold an impromptu team retrospective.
  3. Mine for key issues.
  4. Brainstorm possible causes for key issues.
  5. Brainstorm possible solutions for key issues.
  6. Commit to trying out 1 – 3 possible solutions as a team.
  7. Put checks in place and assess progress.
  8. Rinse and repeat.

Beware of Wallflowers

Be on the look out for perpetual laggards who choose to hang around The Wall. No one forces them to stay there, as they kick stones at the foot of the Wall, like aged teenagers smoking their cigarettes by the bike shed trying to look cool long after the bike shed is gone. Offer help by way of a 1-2-1 conversation to identify options that may help them go over The Wall.

The Secret to Scaling The Wall

  • Always apply the Agile Values: Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage and Respect
  • Apply two additional Agile Values: Trust and Transparency
  • Practice Real Options thinking
  • Take responsibility for yourself
  • Find meaning in your work
  • Find ways you can add value
  • Strive to improve continuously
  • Strive to enjoy what you do – the amount of fun you have is in direct correlation with the chances of you being able to scale The Wall

There’s one more thing about The Wall you should know: there will be many incarnations of The Wall you’ll have to face. The trick is to focus of scaling the one that’s blocking your way right now. Another one will inevitably spring up elsewhere on your journey and that’s good news because we need The Wall to keep our brains agile and our bodies nimble. The Wall also keeps us honest about how agile we really are.

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