Agile For Personal Improvement Experiment: Week 5

This last week’s iteration of self improvement was an utter meltdown. Not only did I not accomplish what I set out to do, I went BACKWARDS in using Agile.  Each day went by, and I looked at my kanban board and said “Man, I really need to get back to that!” I made up excuses, I talked myself out of getting focused. I even convinced myself that since I was so behind that I might as well not do anything. To make matters worse, each morning I would wake up and think–”Hey, Today’s the day I take charge of me personal improvement backlog.”  I would trudge downstairs, get out my laptop, prepare to write or look at my kanban for my next task, and then notice that there were a bunch of email alerts on my phone. The steps to failure looked something like this:

  1. “Well, since I’m looking at my phone, it can’t hurt to see if anyone responded to my facebook post from last night.”
  2. Scroll, scroll, scroll
  3. “Hmm, only one response. From. . . who the heck is that?
  4. Click, dig–”Oh, huh. Look at that. I remember that video.”
  5. Click, click click

6 through 38.  Forty-five minutes later, instead of either writing in this blog or knocking off a task or two from my kanban,  1) I’ve learned that lemurs appear more comical because they actually lack many muscles needed for facial expression, and 2) I’ve done a rough mathematical sanity check on the claim that the average person will spend 153 days of his or her lifespan looking for misplaced items. (personally, the number comes in a bit higher for me)

In short, my discipline fell apart. I allowed myself to be distracted. I took my eye off of the sprint goal. Life’s easier things stepped in. Jane Austen might describe it thus:  “I was excessively diverted.”

Days later, after beating myself up with guilt,  I finally realize that this is a great teachable moment about Agile.

Agile is not easy. It’s simple, but its not easy. It requires incredible discipline, and focus. Just because you have a system in place does not guarantee that you will follow it. You could have all of the ceremonies spelled out to the finest detail, but that is not enough. Every member of your team can know Agile inside and out and have a decade of experience, but that will not get you all the way there. Agile requires discipline and a sense of  team accountability.

Those were the areas where my individual self-improvement model fell apart last week. As an Agile coach, if I was working with a team, this is roughly how that conversation might have gone:

Coach arjay: “what’s on your mind, team arjay?”

Team arjay: “This whole “agile for personal improvement is stupid and is totally falling apart?”

Coach arjay: “You said ‘totally falling apart,’ talk me through some examples.”

Team arjay: “I don’t even know where to start.”

Coach arjay: “Let’s start at your daily level. How would you describe your daily standups?”

Team arjay: “Ummm, we stopped having standups. They were too short, I don’t think they were providing any value, and i have better things to do with my time”

Coach arjay: “What have you noticed about what you do with that time?”

Team arjay: “errrr. I’m more engaged in the news. I’m finally reading the daily skimm. . . and, well. . . Facebook.”

Coach arjay: “How would you say those activities are helping you with the items you identified that you wanted to improve on?”

Team arjay: “You know, coach arjay, sometimes. . . I hate you. . . . .But thanks.”

In the real world with an actual team, the session would go on for a while longer, talking through other aspects, and I would work with the client until we landed on some commitments to action and timelines. In this case, “team arjay” was falling apart at a fundamental level–daily accountability for his own and his teammates actions.

In a team of one, that’s a problem.

I think that the daily standup becomes even more important for a team of one because it creates a ritual. It forces a person to deal with that inner voice. My conversations this last week were entirely one-sided.  They were simply outside, non-team Arjay telling hard working, team arjay to stop doing what he was doing.

So I’m starting last sprint all over again. The important thing is that I’m not throwing the whole thing away. I stopped. I failed. I learned. I’m going to improve. I’m inviting coach arjay (or at least that voice) to come to the daily standups with team arjay. Coach arjay seems like a pretty reasonable guy, and having an outsider might be just the thing team arjay needs to get his focus back. In keeping with Agile’s iterative approach, I have really only lost a week. Now I can regroup and come at the next sprint fresh.

Oh, and I’m leaving my cell phone on the nightstand.

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