It’s been a long time since a “Homegrown Agile” post! What I love about life is the constant reaffirmation of how agility is both applied in and learned from our environment and from nature. This past weekend was just one of those where I saw agility applied (or applied agility in values) to a simple chore but in the meantime, it also reminded me of the sometimes overlooked simplicity of good decision-making and how we can learn from these situations. And what was this deeply revelatory epiphany? Well, mowing the lawn (or as we say in the south, “cutting the grass”) of course! Don’t stop reading – seriously – it will all make sense soon.
The timebox vs. value delivery
I’m sure that everyone reading is just like me – tons of time on their hands and only a few things to get done, right? What? Yes, I know that is not only an incorrect statement, but a HILARIOUSLY incorrect statement. Between work, family, friends, events, and other “to-do’s,” the chores that have to happen to keep a home both beautiful and well-maintained can be time-consuming. One of the tasks that I make time for, both from an exercise as well as an enjoyment standpoint is yard work. I have always, since becoming an adult, enjoyed maintaining and working in the garden, the lawn, and the woods that surround our home. But with all of the other stuff, this must be time-boxed. I have only a certain amount of time that can be spent on this and it is just one item in the midst of others that requires my attention. This weekend I had a shorter period of time to complete the work due to those other items and this forced me to rethink the effort that I needed to put toward lawn work. Likewise, teams and organizations sometimes have to decide on what gets done and when. With the state of the economy, companies do not want to invest in surge staff and many are scaling back on contract labor, which is easily capitalized. This means that value must become more of a driver and that the concept of timeboxing must become a more prolifically used tool.
The quality vs. definition of done argument
So, I have a timebox (both calendar – the weekend – and weather were contributing factors to the need to timebox!) and I have decided to take on this effort because it was valuable. Looking around, I was faced with a stark realization – I was not going to be able to do everything that I really, really, really wanted to do. I really wanted to “gold plate” the work. I’m talking the full-on “Platinum Package:” blade edge everything, trim, mow, remove sticks and leaves prior, spray, treat the beds… I mean everything. I had to determine whether my definition of what done meant would impact my quality. I decided that I could still have quality but simply push some of the work to a later period of time. That the time criticality of certain aspects that I really wanted to do was not as really, well, critical. So I decided to skip the blade edge and just use the trimmer, to skip the treating of beds, and not worry about leaf pickup prior to bagging and mowing the lawn. Many teams struggle with the difference between trying to do all the things that they think vs. the concept of doing the most valuable things with high quality. Quality isn’t a task, quality is a non-negotiable mindset, IT value, and more importantly “walk-it-out-do-it-right-do-it-every-time” action. Just like I didn’t miss rows of mowing because I had a limited time, but rather intelligently decided on what tasks I would focus on more, teams should look at their work as always being focused on quality vs. “getting all the gold plating done.”
And in the end, I wasn’t the customer – my wife was. She was ultimately the responsible party for making sure we met our other timelines. She was the one that would say, “The lawn looks good enough now go take a shower so we can make dinner with friends.” While I had input on the work being done and while it was being done, I desperately needed that person to be a partner and keep me reminded of the bigger picture. Unfortunately, I am witnessing a trend where product management is getting deep in the weeds again. We have “technical product managers” and “task owners” who get deep into the “how” and tell developers and engineers how to do the very work they have been hired to do instead of those owners and leaders of product that stay focused on the problem and what the client/customer needs. Just like my wife is my “partner” in housework prioritization vs. social interaction, the product organization needs to be that voice. When I hear product managers questioning code or acting as the project manager, scrum master, or team lead, and then in their free time product owner, something happened and it isn’t good. We need customer approval via someone close to the team and end user, not another technical manager!
So, what did I learn?
Nature and our environment have a way of reaffirming agility. Its unique simplicity, yet powerful concepts resonate in even the most mundane actions. This was no different. I needed to be reminded of the concepts of the timebox, value, quality as a core value, the definition of done, and product approval. My hope is that you start looking for both reaffirmation and some epiphanies in the environment around you.