The Musings of an Agile Kite
10 March 2016
Yesterday I had a clever thought. (Yeah, just one.) An analogy.
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A colleague was telling an Agile team training class about how his old company practiced Agile for 10+ years before it ultimately failed. I tuned out after he said 10+ years, because I started thinking that something must have changed erratically in the style of management, or support, or their Agile environment. There are many possibilities for what could have been the root cause of the failure. Maybe they were at the crazy crossroads of having a weak facilitator and consistently having really bad continual improvement ideas . . . this is what comes to mind first.
I love analogies. So let me take you straight into one.
Imagine that you are flying a kite. You are watching that bright yellow diamond lazily bobbing and weaving through the sky. You are lying on your back in a beautiful green field, barely noticing that you are still holding onto the roll of string. Maybe you even have the string staked into the turf. Your effort is minimal, and the kite soars on -- not needing you at all. Maybe every once in a while you give the kite more string, so it can soar even higher.
It's beautiful to look at, right? I think so too.
But what happens when a sudden gust of wind comes along and blows the kite a little too much, and it looks like it's starting to take a nose dive? You grab the spool of string and start making wild, exaggerated movements. Maybe you run left! Maybe you run right! Maybe you run in bizarre patterns, to keep the kite airborne! You tug on the string, you let more string out! You start yelling at the kite that it better stay up there, or else. . . .
No matter the outcome -- whether you are able to keep the kite airborne or it crashes violently into the earth or a nearby lake -- imagine what that looked like to the casual observer.
Odds are, the observer watched a previously sane, calm person relaxing in the soft green grass, then suddenly jump up and hysterically gesture and yell at a far-away yellow speck. The more this wildly flailing person tried to exert more control over the kite through gestures, the more violently the kite would react -- at times almost as if it was in defiance of the control exerted over it.
OK, ruminate on that for a minute or two, and I'll take this in another direction.
I like using the kite metaphor when talking with management. What you imagined in the analogy started with a perfect, serene world -- where the kite was already flying along with no need for help. Self-managing, if you will.
But what I omitted from the image was all of the hard work it took to get that kite into the air in the first place. It involved help from a friend to hold the kite while you stretched the string taut, and then that friend threw the kite into the air. Following that, you ran and ran, trying to get the kite to catch enough wind resistance to pull it higher. Several times, the kite dove straight into the ground -- once it even broke the little wooden dowel that serves as its backbone. That had to be replaced. Then, just when you were about to give up on kite flying, the wind was perfect! You took off running, but not too fast. Your friend threw the kite into the air at just the right time. The kite soared up, up, and silently -- as if it had always belonged to the skies -- became one with the clouds.
You, dear leaders -- you, dear management -- you, who wish to make erratic adjustments to a system that has proven itself to be very capable of managing itself in good weather and bad: Please understand that we, the kites, know that we would be flightless without you. We are all grateful for the flight(s) that you've given us. And now that we are flying on our own, please trust us that we can persevere in the changes that the weather brings. Reel in the string when we need to fly lower. Give us more slack when you see that we crave it -- when we need it. We know you will wring your hands when it looks bad, and we appreciate your worry. We see the trees. We see the ground. We see that lake. We will do everything we can to avoid a crash, because it will hurt us, too.
Do you want to know what we would really respect, and appreciate you for?
And then let's try it again.
Here's to a fun season of kite-flying.
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