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The story of a newcomer, adopting agile in a passive world.

Embracing Agile: A Beginner’s Take

Trish Drees
Intern, Transformation Practice

 

“Could we make a rule that there are no more meetings on Friday afternoons? Or if we have one, then can we require that everyone present should have a cocktail in their hand?” Kim Scribner asked our team with a confident bluntness in her voice. I raised my eyebrows and my face illustrated the disbelief I was feeling, and I thought, “Did she really just ask that?”

It was my starting week as an intern at CMG and with new pens in my bag and nerves shaking into my voice, I was shadowing in my first Agile standup, the significance of which was unbeknownst to me (if you’re also unfamiliar with this jargon, take a look at what it means to be an agile organization.) As a college student all-too-familiar with biting my tongue and passively complaining later, I was startled and almost flustered by the honesty of Kim’s request. Even if everyone is thinking it, how could she ask that? Didn’t she know her boss was on the line?

But possibly the only thing more shocking than Kim confessing her distaste for Friday meetings right after a Friday meeting, was the group chatter that ensued after. The team receptively ebbed and flowed on the nuances of the rule: “What was the exact cut-off time where the drink would be required?” “Does it have to be alcoholic, or is soda included?” All the while I watched confused, on the outside of a seemingly united understanding that all honesty was good honesty.

In my first week, I experienced a genuine run-in with complete transparency, group collaboration, and radical candor. This was my first week of Agile.

Since my abrupt introduction that week, I’ve gone through a complete immersion of what it means to operate under a process of iterative development, and I could not be more intrigued. After a boot camp of Agile how-to and scrum master training, there are 3 key points I’ve learned so far:

  • There are no hierarchies in scrum.

With only a week of experience under my belt, the thought of questioning, pressing, or challenging the ideas of senior-level partners was nothing short of bewildering. Practicing Agile, however, is dependent on the idea that the pursuit of transparency and collaboration trumps our innate human need for a pecking order. I fight the urge at each standup to look around for reassurance, defer to my project lead, or listen to the voice in my head telling me to pipe down. But, if I caved into my own refuge, I couldn’t be practicing the Agile ideology that I have grown to love so quickly.

  • Accountability is more about teamwork than personal responsibility.

As a student deep in the weeds of a group-work intensive program, my perspective of collaboration was filled with delegation-heavy dividing and conquering. Communication was always low, the follow-up came the night before the due date, and when reality fell short of expectation, you scorned the slacker in a peer review.

In an Agile company, you have to own your role, but accountability is coupled with the constant connection, affirmation, and help of your teammates. As you drive towards your target, your team is in the passenger’s seat of your task, and they get out of the car to remove roadblocks if you need them to. Agile workers don’t just produce exceptional work for the sake of their team and its timeline, they produce exceptional work because of their team and its timeline.

  • Parkinson’s Law is real.

I can formally confirm the hypothesis that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. I have never seen more work get completed in a condensed amount of time than in the middle of an agile sprint. However, it is not the intelligence of the team or the uniqueness of the dynamic that brings tasks to fruition so quickly, although I will attest to both being true. I have learned that the sheer idea of a short timeline makes people work more efficiently, and longer ones actually slow them down.

Agile team members are not more stressed or pressed for time than a normal team, but they fill their days in a more potent way. Rather than half-way undertaking tasks from far and wide on their priority list with no real end in mind, they execute quickly in whatever way maximizes value.

“Scrum is kind of like poker: you can learn the rules in ten minutes, but it takes a long time to be great at it”, David Matthew said about getting started on an Agile team.

I know that I have a long way to go before the transparency I experience at CMG will feel completely comfortable, and Agile will not magically solve all of the problems I will encounter on this team overnight. However, there is something special to be said about a way of working that so immediately inspired me to view value creation differently. If Agile can speak for itself to an outsider in just a few short weeks, how could it help other people, or trickle into new parts of my life?

I know my journey with Agile is just beginning, and like any good poker player, I need to practice over and over again until the rules become a part of who I am and how I work. Now that I have gone all in, the real question is, will you?