I am in an agile project. I love it.
I am working in an agile HR/IS software development project right now (as a team member). It is the first time for me. I love it. We changed our way of working from waterfall to agile a year ago in this project, since we realized the entity is too large for us to plan ahead, and changes just keep coming. It has developed our team enormously, we have let a collaboration tool (Basecamp) evolve to support our communication and work, we have let a meeting structure evolve to support our work. We have iterated and changed both the tool and the meetings structure according to our need. There would be NO turning back to waterfall. One of our process specifications is going through its 25th revision. Read this HR’s: Twentyfive changes into a process, because we identify new connections and requirements as we go. We could never have foreseen them. If we had asked the developers to develop the software on the first specification, we had ended up with a pile of pure bollocks. We have, in our team, found out how to deal with uncertainty, how to re-iterate, re-design, re-prioritize. There is a flow in our collaboration, that I never experienced in traditional project work. I am not in the project in a coach role, but sometimes stepping back and observing it all is so intriguing. I just purely love it.
I am in an agile project. I hate it.
I am in an agile software project. I hate it. Instead of keeping the workflow healthy, this project has turned into deadline driven delivery, where we as a team are pushing our limits in performance, endurance and collaboration skills. We still want to take most changes in consideration, since they are essential to make the damn software work. I find myself irritated when there are delays, because my own work is delayed. Delays are frequent. Delays are due to my own workload is too big, some of our team’s workload is to big, customer brings in new requirements or we have misunderstood something, an IT-partner is delayed with providing something (outside the project, but they still affect delivery, because it is their task in the chain of tasks that might be delayed). There are just so many detailed things happening simultaneously, and I do not seem to read the complex entity that well. I feel insecure.
Oh My Goodness, This is exactly like handball – it is the semifinals and time is running out.
This is where I realized, I have been here before. This is exactly the same dynamics as happens in team sports on the field. Time is running out and the game is really tight. You feel like your team is not performing too well. You become afraid of loosing. Once that thought hits you, and you are not too experienced, you start protecting your own ego. “It is not me, it is that person who is not passing the ball”. “I did my best defense, but that other person let that goal slip through”. “I’m not the crucial player here, if our star is not performing on top, then how could we win?”. That is how I was thinking in my junior years as a not-too-important player. I also could not see the game as an entity, but as a series of small events (all to be controlled). I did not have the experience to tell which were the things to focus on in the game, and which details are irrelevant.
Right in this exact moment, during this difficult time when time is running out and you are not performing too well, is where real team players and experienced players bring in their calm, winning spirit.
The best thing can be to stop, very briefly. Breathe. Identify your thought patterns, and choose the high road. That is what I learnt to do when I was a senior player (not-at-all-that-important-gamewise) I was given play time when the mental going was getting tough, to calm down the talented players. Instead of nagging or ignoring, I helped people concentrate on the next offense. And then on the next defense. One thing at the time. I helped them communicate on what they want to do together in the field. And I took effort in showing my appreciation and spirit, anytime someone did something in the positive direction. You know what? That is contagious! Others started doing that, too. I knew which of the opponents players to disturb to get them mentally unbalanced. With failures, I made perfectly clear to just leave it behind, and concentrate on your next task. As a senior player I had seen most situations before, and knew which the focus points were, with the biggest leverage. Most of what happened in the field is irrelevant and natural, let it flow. Growing from watching detailed small events (inexperience) to unconsciously processing a large flow with identifying only the cues with the biggest impact (experience). That is the difference between being a Junior or a Senior.
When today, tired from last nights work, I recognized my thought pattern – “Damnit, they are delayed again, and made a mistake because they did not read my instructions correctly” – I realized “This is exactly as in the semifinals!” I can draw from my handball years. Instead of writing an angry message with what I felt in that moment (Junior behavior), I changed my thinking to how a senior in the field would think. “I should call them more often to check up with them, communicate better”. So, I wanted to send them a message, which would reflect what I did in my senior years in the field.
“There are a lot of details hanging in the air right now, I understand if some of them are missed. I appreciate you are stretching so much to get this thing working”.
I love handball. It has taught me so much. (I did not love handball all the time. Frequently, in my junior years I hated it). The IT partner’s CEO called me up to communicate around how to take the next few steps forward. We also discussed these things are all normal in SW projects. Misunderstandings. Delays. Insufficient communication. I thanked him for having a calming effect on me. Let’s just concentrate on the next important things to get those done.
This CEO is the Senior player on the field now. I am a Junior, luckily with some senior experience from another field.
I guess I am going to love and hate the Agile world just as much as I have with handball, but in the end I will turn out to be a Senior in this field, too. And what a ride it will be!
Thanks for reading!
PS: I’m talking about the teamsport Handball (see Handball federation’s video of it here)