Friday, November 04, 2005

Do or Do Not Do. There is no Try.

Master Yoda may well be an Agile master. His sage advise came back to me again in a recent discussion with some colleagues about adopting a stand-up practice for the whole company.

Quite often I find that people try to adopt Agile practices a little at a time - in this case do it with a few people to see if it works rather than the whole team. The lets-try-it-and-see-if-it-works approach. The problem is you're not actually doing the real thing, but a prototype or a simulation. And the commitment is not there in this attitude. Furthermore the actual value is often found in doing-the-whole-thing-for-real and there is no middle ground that is informative.

Its a bit like saying your going to learn to dance but only committing your left leg to trying it.

I can appreciate the fears associated with adopting a new practice especially when transitioning to an Agile approach. However there is usually a fear of "doing the right thing" at the base of it. Is it right for us? How do you do it? What if its the wrong thing? Lets try it in the small and then if its wrong the damage will be less.

So by the dancing analogy this would amount to only committing your left leg because you're afraid that you might look silly, you don't really know how to do the dance, and you might hurt yourself if you tried the whole thing - but you're willing to risk a leg.

There is no right or wrong in practice based approaches, only more valuable or not - and you can't figure that out unless you really do the practice.

I believe the lets-do-it-and-restrospect-it-later approach is best. Do the thing which believe will give you the highest value. Commit to doing it 100%, unquestioning, non-analyzing, applying yourself, by-the-book, this-and-this-only. But agree at the start how long to do it for and when to retrospect upon the practice. So for example, agree to try the stand-up practice for a given team for four weeks and the retrospect on whether it is as valuable as you thought it might be and how you might change things to improve it. During the 4 weeks just do it. Don't discuss it, don't argue about it, don't try to optimize it. Then do a brief retrospective on it.

So this is like committing yourself to learning the dance, whole heartedly and with body and soul. But giving yourself a time limit when you decide whether your getting what you want from it.

This is one of the reasons why I often bang on about Agile being about discipline. It takes discipline to commit to something and not analyze whilst doing it, but then set aside time to reflect. This attitude in itself is a valuable part of being Agile, and especially being eXtreme.


At Tuesday, November 08, 2005 1:48:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You certainly seem to have an obsession with dancing. What gives hippy boy?

At Tuesday, November 08, 2005 3:05:00 pm, Blogger John S Nolan said...

Have you seen me dance? You would understand my kryptonite like relationship with dancing.

I often use it as an example because most people get the analogy - and would all like to dance really!

(and now I'm a hippy, too, huh?)

At Thursday, November 10, 2005 2:59:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really are getting quite a following. You are now known to the world as a curious mix of

Single Mother,
Speech affected,
Dancing lunatic (the last is my contribution to the list - as a way of saying thank you for your hilarious posts so far)

At Thursday, November 10, 2005 3:27:00 pm, Anonymous Rupert said...

Don't let the losers get you down. I like you.

At Tuesday, November 15, 2005 11:34:00 am, Anonymous Crispin said...

I like him too! Cool picture! Hands off rupert.

At Tuesday, November 15, 2005 5:00:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

rupert, crispin ?!?!?

Are you some kind of public school boy fantasy? Certainly looks like it, from the posters on your blog!

At Tuesday, November 15, 2005 5:44:00 pm, Blogger John S Nolan said...

I have to take compliments wherever I can get them.

I do suspoect that the closest either of Rupert or Crispin got to public school was poor imitations of Monty Python sketches.

At Friday, November 18, 2005 12:52:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure I agree with your analysis here.Trying something in stages does not mean you are not experiencing it or are not committed to it. It does mean you take steps to control the risk of failure out of the gate making it more likely that either you will succeed ultimately as you learn from taking small steps or that you elminate high cost failures.

You use dancing as an analogy. Lets try swimming (more eXtreme).

You do not know how to swim. Do you jump into the deep end of the pool and try so you have the full expetience knowing if you fail you drown or do you learn little by little at the shallow end. Even when you learn to swim at the shallow end you learn to float, then add kicking, arm stroke and breathing. You do not just go in and flail around. The fact that you learn and try things step by step when learning to swim does not mean you are less committed to swimming but does avoid the more serious risk of drowning.

In the military, if you want to use a new battle tactic you came up with would you first actually do it in combat and see if your troops all get killed in live action or would you practice it first to get the skills down for the tactic, maybe do some simulations (and modify the tactic if it does not seem to work as planned) and then try it in combat to get the full experience. The fact that you did it in stages does not mean you are not committed to learning the new tactic but does avoid a lot of battle field losses.

In business if you are trying to sell a new product that your came up with do you do market research, several product prototypes, try it our on focus groups, try it our on selective markets and them mass market it or do you spend millions from the get go to mass market it first and see what happens.

In team sports, if you want to try out a new play, do you practice it first or just tell the team lets now practice it but do it the first time in an actual game for the real experience. If you do it in practice and there are problems you can work them out or scrap the play. If you do it during the game and it fails costing your team the game it hurts the moral of the team (never mind the fan base). Again trying it our in practice makes you no less committed to trying the new play and getting it to work.

In all these cases I believe you can be fully committed to try something and getting it to work but you control the risk and impact of failure by doing it in stages, seeing what works and what does not work before diving in head first and hoping someone throws you a line if it turns our you are drowning.

At Friday, November 18, 2005 2:58:00 pm, Blogger John S Nolan said...

You seem to have confused commitment for risk taking?

I do not believe I advocated trying to be a professional dancer this way? Nor, did I am make any commentary on how you learn - just that you have to commit to learning all the practices and how to weave them together before you believe or claim you are dancing or doing Agile.

In your swimming analogy: you are not swimming until you do the kicking, floating and breathing thing all together. Nor should you try to become a lifeguard if you haven't managed to do all those things together.

In your military and team sports analogy: trying this stuff out in a "practice session" is the way it is done because of the risk profile and cost, like you say. However, I think your points agree with my position: you shouldn;t go out and do something until you have all the practices integrated, and you must do all of them. On the battlefield troops and resources must be co-ordinated - any partial failure can lead to disaster. On the sports field, players must move in concert in a practiced manner or that too might lead to failure.

But there is one thing I would add - I'm talking about doing software delivery. Its different to sports, battlefields, marketing products, creating skyscrapers. analogies like this can be useful but should be used warily.

On the whole no dies if you fail to deliver software. There is no hugh cost of materials planning and cost of construction. There is no conflict or battle to be won.

Care must be taken not to believe the anaology over the point its trying to illuminate.

All models are lies.


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