There Is No “Should” In Agile

Overheard: “Tasking out the sprint in hours should have been more accurate than doing it in something as imprecise as story points”.

Every time I hear the word “should” my ears perk up. Ding, ding, ding…  alarm bells, warning flags…!  Using an agile mindset we need to look at what did happen, not what should have happened. For years I heard colleagues talk about how we should have planned better, that design should have worked, employees should be happy with what we gave them…  And yet history teaches us something else – it teaches us that we learn by doing, by experimenting, by testing our hypothesis against what actually did happen, not by clinging desperately to what we thought should have happened.

When was then last time you said,”It should have worked. We just didn’t try hard enough”. Can it be replaced by “We did x…. and here’s what actually happened. What did we learn from that?  What do we want to try next?”?

History is an available teacher. It’s up to us to do the learning.


Oh Wow!

I picked up a new pair of glasses last week and I was reminded of the moment when I received my first pair of glasses.

At age ten I walked into the optometrist’s office full of angst – embarrassed at having “failed” the eye-test (I know that’s illogical but never-the-less its how I felt), and worried about the prospect of being called “four-eyes”. I was all set to hate these new contraptions on my face. Then I walked out of the office and looked around my small town. Despite all my angst, my reaction was immediate and visceral, “Oh Wow! Look at how many branches there are on those trees! Look at all those leaves! I had no idea…!” The world was rich with new clarity and detail, “Oh Wow!”

My latest pair of glasses have progressive lenses which provide multiple focal points for seeing at various distances, both near and far. Given that I am someone who has accumulated a certain amount of life experience <wink>, seeing the fine print has become a challenge. When I tried on these new glasses, the technician handed me a card containing print of various sizes and ask me which ones I could read. My response was again immediate and visceral, “Oh Wow! I can read that tiny print; and look how close I’m holding this card to my face! Oh Wow!”

My point is this – Clarity of vision is an “Oh Wow” experience.

This is true in the world of work just as in the physical world.

In my role of Agile coach I hear lots of discussion about how to motivate individuals and teams. One of the greatest motivators I have seen is clarity-of-vision.

Just so there is no confusion, clarity-of-vision is different than having goals. I hear lots of discussion about goals and goal-setting as a way of motivating employees. That is not what I am talking about here.  Goals score points. Visions inspire. Goals are often tied to extrinsic motivators such as bonuses. Visions are more visceral, and more powerful; they tap into intrinsic motivation.

When we have a clear mental image of the future we are heading toward, and we know why that future is important and beneficial, it can be an “Oh Wow” experience. We see the possibilities; we are energized, excited, inspired! Let’s go! Let’s do it!

Do we ever need to make changes to keep the vision clear?

Sure. I certainly went through numerous pairs of corrective lenses as my vision changed over the years. In the work environment, visions change as well. Often the vision blurs so gradually that we don’t realize that we have become unfocused. We need to test our vision periodically, and do whatever is needed to sharpen it up.

Is the vision sometimes challenging?

Definitely. Sometimes the vision is expansive and we have to pick one small part to focus on at a time. But without that context of the expansive view, our small focus area would be much less inspiring.

Consider your world of work – what is your mental image of the future you are working toward? How clear is the vision to you? To your team? To your organization?

When was that last time you looked at that vision and said “Oh Wow!”… literally… out loud… “Oh Wow! I see the possibilities now! Let’s go!”

What can you do to clarify the vision and make that “Oh Wow” experience possible?

Thoughts On Agility

Hi.  I am an Agile coach who plans to use this space to clarify my thinking on what it means to be Agile.  Welcome to my blog!

For me, the agile mindset came naturally.  Apparently, it happens to align with certain aspects of my personality.  But I know that is not the case for everyone.

For years I led software development teams where we developed iteratively and sought feedback, but I could see the industry moving toward bigger design up front and longer feedback cycles and that was concerning to me.  I was thrilled when I discovered “The XP Series” of books in about 2002; I was relieved and excited to know that there were others who thought like I did.

Fast forward several years – I find myself in the role of Agile coach.   Agile values are incredibly helpful, but the reality is that the world is complicated; situations are not black and white, and there is no one right answer for people seeking to apply those values.

I hope to use this space to work through issues and ideas that I deal with as an Agile coach.  If I hit on topics that are of interest to you, I hope you’ll join the conversation.

All the best,