Homegrown Agile: The Kitchen is done!

In my last blog, I set the introduction around what drove us in our kitchen remodel; the agile concepts that I not only coach on but that we also live at home. You see, we are human and have the same constraints as most of you do – we have a mortgage, kids in college, kids in activities in school, and just life. All of this means we can’t simply, “approve a project” and go, but rather we need to take an iterative approach that considers a variable scope.

I am happy to say that we finished our kitchen! It was somewhat painless but mostly because we had full function of our kitchen throughout the process, we learned from our mistakes early, and we didn’t let artificial timelines or constraints cloud our judgement. Through this we focused our “agility” in remodeling on three key concepts:

  1. Taking an iterative, cadenced approach
  2. Taking an economic view of the work
  3. Understanding incremental done

The Cadence

Remember in my past blog how I said HGTV was from the devil? Well, I was sort of joking! The ideas are amazing and it provides great vision for work that we do. But it also sets unreasonable expectations in many cases. Now, over the past couple years more and more has been said about missing deadlines and going over budget, but no one has tackled the answer. In our world it was this: we didn’t remodel the entire kitchen in one big push. Some of this was because we weren’t doing a full gut, but rather we were doing a facelift. We broke our kitchen down into five main epics: the stove/microwave bank, the refrigerator bank, right of sink, left of sink, and island/lighting. Each of these epics allowed us to learn from the practices and improve over time.

For example, we tackled the refrigerator bank of cabinets first. We had originally started with a certain primer that was recommended but after prepping and priming according to the manufacturer specs, we didn’t have adhesion. Thankfully after a couple hours of priming and then a few minutes on the phone with the paint store, we had a new primer (replaced free), and a working solution/framework. this bank of cabinets represented about 15% of our total cabinets and work. Can you imagine if we had prepped and painted all of the cabinets and doors at the same time? Can you imagine the dollars/time lost? Of course you can because this is how we do most of our big projects. We slice horizontally – we do the database first and spend months architecting a solution just to find ourselves struggling the minute we start writing code. Or we pick a framework just to find out that it doesn’t work with a done feature. This approach taught us a lot about feedback loops.

We also allowed time between iterations to do other work and to just enjoy the work. This time of retrospection and review also allowed us to let the “done” work sink in to where we stopped seeing all the great and started seeing the things that needed to change. For instance, we used a wainscoting that also doubled as backsplash. This meant that, because we were keeping our granite countertops, special cuts were needed to make it look good or else we needed a caulking job. This helped us live beyond the shiny and take serious feedback on our work done. Sometimes our customers (internal and external) are so excited that we gave them something working early that they might not have time to give us good feedback. Give them time with a solution to really put it through the paces and learn for the next increment.

Economic View

I’ll make this one short. We didn’t have $20,000 to dump into a remodel. We wanted to make this about our style but not break the bank. Because of this we used an old trick that my parents taught me growing up – spend the money in areas that are hard to replace and plan that you can replace things that are easy to replace as your style changes. To me this sounded like a balance approach to technical debt! We have watched some of these shows where people spent $1000, $2000, $3000 on a single light fixture! Or over $100 a piece on hardware! For us it was about economics. We spent several dollars on upgrading our “infrastructure” a/k/a hinges and slides and structure where needed to soft close and beefing up the cabinet shelf supports. We also spent a few more dollars on electrical improvements to support additional smart lighting in the future (hard things to rework). Then we looked at cost savings on the hardware (easy things to rework) and lighting KNOWING that our style changes. When working with development teams, we too often see so much effort spent on the “gold plating” that all the money is spent on shiny rather than the structure. Mike Holmes of “Holmes on Homes” says constantly that people are enamored with finishes and their houses are collapsing due to poor construction. He also talks about how much easier good finishes are when you have good structure. Yes, it is possible to take an economic view all while using emerging architecture, all while keeping a vision of the structure of our products!

Are we “done” or “done, done”?

Because we worked in both an incremental and iterative way, knowing when we were “done” because a matter of opinion. When we finished the first four “epics” we were done. We hadn’t upgraded the lights, we hadn’t changed the island, but we needed to refocus on family stuff as our son, “E” who I introduced in the blog here, was starting marching band (which meant WE were starting marching band too). But that was ok! You see, the island was functional, it wasn’t ugly, it still worked for us. And our lighting, it was good, it was ok. But as we settled in to the season and things slowed down we found that we had time to revisit some of those additional features. Sometimes as coaches we oversell the the idea that we work on one thing at one time for all of eternity. In the truth we focus on the getting to done the things that are most important to our organization at that time. For us, “done” on the kitchen was good enough so that we could get to “done” on props for the performance, time with the kiddos in a hectic school year, and moving our oldest into college. Teams should always be looking at the products they support or functions the support and reaffirming (or in some cases changing) the priorities. Many teams and product owners use some “sunk cost” as an indicator for priority – fight this urge! Just because you spent a lot of time on it so far doesn’t mean it should be priority!

Where are we now?

Well we are done, I think. Without a picture you might think that we are living in a half-done squalor of a place with wires hanging everywhere and half-painted finishes. Well that isn’t the case as you can see here:

In typical Agile Dad style, I will leave you with this. Don’t let your life or your products be driven by old ways. Think outside of the way you have typically done work. Focus on value, focus on iterative approaches, focus on increasing feedback loops. In that you and your teams and your organizations can improve not only what you deliver but how you deliver it!

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