Homegrown Agile: A Discussion with My Son on Team

As a Dad, there are never a loss of times that can be used to grow closer to, educate, enrich, empower, and even correct my kids.  The art is knowing which of those – growing closer to, educating, enriching, empowering, correcting – is needed at which time.  Sometimes, we use the situation or problem to just build the relationship with our kids, connecting with them to let them know they aren’t alone and that we “get it.”  Other times we let them know the better way, help them see why something occurred, show them a way to bring integrity, transparency, etc. to a situation or just let them feel the pain of the situation so it doesn’t happen again.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, I thought so.  As a coach this is the decision matrix we enter into with organizations and the people of those organizations all the time.  Last thing before I get into the story – we (my wife and I) are not trying to raise children, but rather trying to raise good moms and dads, meaning that we want them to be able to think for themselves, love to learn, connect with others, and know when and how to correct.  Don’t get the idea that we are experts – I think we stumble more than we get it right, but the fact is our standards on this don’t lower based on our abilities.

OK, now the story.  About two months ago, when the weather in Georgia dropped from the 90’s to the high 80’s (we call that a cold front), I reminded my son, E, that the lawn needed to be mowed.  Even though we have about 2 acres in the country, our lawn is about the size of small, in-town lot.  I love this kid.  He is my boy.  I don’t mean that just from a “pass down the family name” standpoint, but rather this kid is my sidekick, my copilot, my buddy.  We don’t always get to spend alone time due to schedules, but when we do, we always try to take advantage of times to sneak off and get a coke and snickers after taking the trash, go to the range together, and the like.  E is a typical 13-year-old boy though.  He wants to spend his time playing video games, chatting with friends online, and doing as little as possible when he can.  He is also my kid that is the realist and a bit snarky inside.  When he was younger, he had the hardest time when teachers would ask questions, not because he didn’t know the answer, but rather because he was appalled that the teacher seemed to not.  “Why else would they be asking me?” he would ask, obviously upset that the teacher “knew” so little.

Anyway, back to the story.  So, I reminded E that the lawn needed mowing, blah, blah.  This was on a Friday.  My expectation for him this year has been that the lawn gets mowed over the weekend.  He has to figure in our other work, our unplanned trips, etc. knowing that the mowing takes him all of 30 minutes (if he does it in one session).  Also, I have work that has to be done before we call the lawn “done, done.”  Saturday rolls along and no mowing.  Sunday morning, Sunday mid-day, no mowing.  So, I think, “how do I want to handle this?  Do I want to correct?  Do I want to teach?”  So, I mowed the lawn.  At first I didn’t say anything, even when he walked out to check the mail.  I could tell in his eyes that he didn’t know what to do but I could also tell he didn’t want to know what to do!


Many of our teams and organizations are in the same shape; the reasons might be different, but the outcome is the same.  There is always work that needs to be done – planned or unplanned – and teams have to come up with a tactic to get this work done.  Many teams struggle because they see tasks individually, instead of as a team.  They struggle because they say, “this is my work, that is your work, leave me alone.”  This isn’t a team but rather a group of individuals who may or may not be working toward a similar output.  As I pulled my son to the side after completing the whole of outdoor maintenance for the week, I asked him, “where were you?”  Not know what to say, he simply looked down and said the only words of wisdom he knows at 13, “I don’t know.”


As I attempted to put together some rational lesson in the midst of being a bit peeved, I started to think about the “team.”  Over the past few years, agile has taken a turn in what I think is not some good directions.  The word team doesn’t hold enough oomph.  We have had to add “component,” or, “feature” as a seeming prefix to explain that teams should be able to get all the work done.  Worse yet, we have forgotten the root for teams – that we were created to function optimally in groups of 3-9 as humans, and that this allows for us to not only limit communication pathways (on the high end) but also hold each other accountable and rally when needed (on the low end).  E and I continued our conversation and explained to him that we are all on teams and that we have to hold each other accountable to the goal.  It is not someone outside the team that must remind us to be accountable, we must do this ourselves.  We set proper goals for the work we need to do during a timebox and we do it.  If we get done early, awesome, but when we plan too much it is a great learning experience to remind us to plan better next time.  Too many teams have gotten into the habit of saying, “well, there is always next sprint.”  And while we believe in sustainable pace, we also believe that we should do everything we can to do the best we can and meet the goals.

One list, one focus

“I was doing other things.”  E’s words were full of truth but also highlighted a key issue – he has too many lists of work to try to focus on.  When I was younger I thought I would grow up and magically things would change; that my adult mind would be completely different from my teenage mind; that I would grow properties of organizing.  I have since realized that this isn’t automatic and many of us guys are just better at covering up their teenage mind below a thinly veiled layer of “adulting.”  Teams with many different bodies of work, different focuses, unaligned team goals, etc. are not going to perform!  I don’t care if you have a scrum master, project manager, program manager, lead developer, and product owner in the room, success will not be as great!  We have to learn to focus on goals.  While I 100% agree that we can have multiple bodies of work in the same backlog, there is still a need to prioritize, group, and plan like work to achieve optimized throughput.  My son was focused on a list of school work to be done from a paper in his backpack, a list of games to be won on his computer, things mom was saying, and then in the back of his head was things that he sorta-kinda remembered that dad said.  It was time to go back to one list, plan as needed and re-plan on the day of to make sure we all knew where we needed help and that we were focused on the same goal.

The Power of Fully Allocated Team

Above I mentioned what it meant to be on a team – to be accountable to each other to get a single list of visible work done.  These are important concepts and drive the organizational team, but there is a benefit that I don’t want to forget to mention (especially since I tend to be long winded!) and that the power that is in team.  I know we jokingly say there is “no I in Team,” but there has to be the empowered individual in order to have an empowered team.  If one member is under the belief that they cannot do or act in a manner that both drives the solution and team forward, then there is a failure.  During E and my conversation, he mentioned something that made me drop – “I thought you wanted to do it yourself.”  I immediately read through the words of this young man and heard, “you haven’t empowered me to take over from you even if I know I’m supposed to do it.”  After I picked my heart up off the ground from the realization that my old nemesis “control” had snuck back into our relationship, I took a deep breath, asked for forgiveness and said, “my son, you have permission to accomplish great things and small things alike.  I give you authority to take over from me.”  You see, I am not raising a son, I’m raising a father, remember?  He needs to know that I trust him as my team member to call me out when I fall back into my old ways.  Teams need empowered individuals and encourage and empower each other.

And then…

Well, E is 13.  Every day is an “and then.”  Each day, I have to remind both of us that we are on a team and that we have to respect each other, stay accountable to the goal, and empower each other.  My hope is that as he grows and becomes more of the man he will be that he will, in turn, hold his old man to accountability and to the goal.  So, if you are working on a team, remember that a team is something that needs daily nurturing and care.  It requires that we constantly and consistently look for places of improvement and increased effectiveness.  Just take the time to look for these areas.  Be honest, be open, and be focused on the goal!

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