The Fierce Urgency Of Now

This title is a quote from MLK.  It reminds me that time can burn and consume like a fire.  With the awareness that something needs to be done, we are challenged with taking action. It is the underlying motivation, logical reasoning, moral compass or character which will sustain that action should it meet opposition, resistance, impediment or chaos.  Anger can be a great short term motivator, but even Lincoln noticed that he destroyed an enemy every time he made them a friend instead.  How does an organization or an environment change?  The answer is usually one person at a time.  Having an optimism to be able to do that is what Powell called a force multiplier.  Going even further, in order to strengthen individuals we form into teams.  Larger or smaller – groups scale, coordinate, communicate, and converge on goals.

How is your organization organizing?

Valerie posted about having the right reasons to adopt scrum.  It makes worlds of difference since everyone’s active participation gets a team to the goal, the winning side of the struggle.

Just like a sustainable pace – Is our Vision sustainable?  This is the end goal, the proverbial chess endgame. What is our progress? Is this realistic? How quickly do we just give up or remain the armchair critic? Did we truly give it everything we had and then some? What did we try?

I once was with a team for a sprint planning session.  The scrum master led them through a visualization exercise for the sprint.  What would have to happen to get the work done.  Bit by bit with a few more questions, all the tasks, the order, the priority, and a plan emerged for the next two weeks.  The team was charged, energized and started the next day with diving right in.  On day two the plan fell apart with a problem the team didn’t expect.   Some people left with a memory that the plan failed.  Instead the plan was a start and the REAL wisdom was in a different spot.  Not the ability to follow a plan, but in the team’s ability to adapt, adjust and overcome.  With experience the team becomes better at critical thinking, and hence makes better plans.  What if this happens at the organizational level with leadership plans?  Does it all just fall apart or do we have a great team with the trusted ability to adjust and adapt?  We are out to improve not only the capacity but the capability of organizations.

How many times will we need to turn inwards and answer ourselves with a clear and immediate response that this effort is indeed worth it? If this is every day then it better be a VERY good answer.  An organizational ‘gut check’ for the proverbial fire that inspires us all to work towards that result.  Improving ourselves, our craft, our community.   A process shapes interaction.  Sometimes we grasp onto and leverage it just like another grip in scaling towards a mountain top.   Especially when we get scared, we can often cling and hold to it.  Moving nowhere until we are left so exhausted that we simply give up.  To change a process takes something else; a continuous desire to move towards something better. To improve upon our position we look for some purchase, or hold that affords us better (ad)vantage.  Teaching someone a best practice isn’t enough.  Without any investment, curiosity, willingness to participate and improve this is a check box action at its best and is still just a facade.  Even the Shu, Ha, Ri maturity model suggests something a bit better.  Emulate, Learn, Teach.

A Scrum is not always a pretty thing.  Prepare for it.

Watch one sometime.  Learn the Rugby analogy we use for software development team.  This is huge effort to move past a mark against an obstacle, a direct resistance.  The effort allows the team to take the ball and run with it. We train for it, participate in them, and improve upon our ability to perform them.  Be prepared to deal with problems and conflict and enable the team and organization to move towards resolution, mitigation, acceptance, or displacing the burden, even taking some iteration at a combination of any of these.  Melville said that if continual success is proof that one may wisely know their powers,–it is only to be added, that, in that case, they know them to be small.  There was never any risk to grow beyond where we were comfortable with control if we didn’t fail somewhere. Minimal frameworks tend towards maximum exposure.   Also, without the right supports things crumble away.  Care and maintenance are aimed at supporting an existing level.   What supports are a team, a program, or the entire organization willing to put in place to make this not only sustainable but incrementally better? Are we out to change the reputation of the company – or perhaps this is simply a side effect.  What can we let go of? Was it control, discomfort, or visibility into our vulnerabilities or insecurities?  Did we just move around the problem spots or did we instead reward and emphasize and grow our strengths?  Did we settle when it became someone else’s problem or did we make it better for everyone?

The wisdom at WHY we do all these things is found in the ability to answer ‘why’.  It is at the very heart of everything that gives us the willingness and drive to get close to the problem, be able to engage and grapple with it.  Where does your answer to ‘why’ lead you to share in a dream?

5 thoughts on “The Fierce Urgency Of Now

  1. Great post Ed! I am curious, what was the visualization exercise you mentioned that a ScrumMaster led the team through for sprint planning?

    • Hi Jim, As the scrummaster for the team mentioned above, Ed invited me to respond to your question. I am fascinated with how some athletes prepare for their sporting using the tools of visualization. For instance, it is commonplace to see Olympic swimmers, sprinters, hurdlers, speed skaters, skier’s, all running through every turn, jump, or hurdle they will encounter. So by the time they arrive at the start line they have run the race hundreds of times in their head.

      I was curious as to how this would possibly translate to a mature scrum team collaborating to visualize how they will complete the sprint: we focused on the cadence (strides off the blocks), pairing and handoffs (passing the baton), and potential obstacles (hurdles).

      I gave a brief introduction of the practice of visualization and the team agreed (buy-in) that it would be a worthwhile activity. I drew two horizontal lines on the whiteboard representing the 2-week sprint. I asked them to call out major anticipated events and I marked them on the board. We identified code freezes, group meetings, design sessions, pairing schedules, and things of that ilk. Next we looked at the work we committed to accomplish in the sprint and mapped how the backlogs fit over the timeline. We used an orange marker to represent “time in dev” and a blue for “time in test” so it was easy to understand which backlogs we needed to tackle first in order to stage the work appropriately.

      The thinking was that if we anticipated a backlog ready for testing on Wednesday afternoon, we could review our “visualization” on Thursday’s standup to see if we deviated from plan and how we could adapt to recover.

      As Ed mentioned in the post, it didn’t really work out the way we had hoped, but it did give us some additional vision, and the confidence to “inspect and adapt” as things changed. We were more easily able to anticipate the known variables since we had seen them before (if only in our imagination) and the unknown and unexpected didn’t seem to throw us off the game as much as it would have otherwise.

      I hope this helps, if you would like to continue the conversation, I can work with Ed to put together a more visual post and see where we can collaborate to improve the process.

      If anyone else has experience with something like this I would love to hear feedback as well.

      • Thank you very much for the response John and it does help. It sounds like a great exercise, one I certainly may take advantage of myself in the future!!

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