Sucker Punch To My Agile Ego

April 7, 2011

I just attended Gojko Adzic’s course “From user stories to acceptance tests” where we began the course with an exercise of making a release plan for a “Black Jack” gambling site. Gojko acted as the customer asking for the development project. Three teams with four persons in each team set off to create release plans based on a sheet with the rules for the game. We were slicing the functionality in the most excellent and innovative ways. The time pressure was there so there wasn’t much time to consider our options but all of us were seasoned in the software industry so we managed to do quite well anyway. We proudly presented our plans to Gojko one team at a time. Each plan very well-formed. Then he dropped the bomb on us:

“How do you know that this is what I want? How do you know that this is what I need right now?”.

Ehhh … hmm …  huh?

None of us had stopped for a second to ask the customer about what he wanted or needed.

Working as an agile coach I keep telling my clients that they must communicate with each other. They must never assume anything and they must never draw conclusions based on assumptions. I tell them that whenever your mind goes “I think that …”, they must lift the phone and ask the other person to make sure they have understood the situation correctly.

As soon as Gojko had dropped the bomb upon us my mind started going through all my decisions along the way. I started to rationalize every choice I had made along the way. And they were all excellent. I had made foolproof choices all the time and could defend each and every one of them. But they were all based on one fatal mistake; I hadn’t asked the customer. I had built the greatest castle ever … on top of a quagmire. I noticed how everyone else were rationalizing their behaviour, some out loud. During the time pressure we had all defaulted back to the setting where we thought we knew enough without communicating with the customer and now we were defaulting back to the behaviour of defending our actions.

I think I probably missed about half of what Gojko said during the rest of the day because I was beating myself up. How could I walk into this trap? Because it was a trap, no doubt about that. A very cleverly set trap. But still, I should not be the person walking into that trap. Me, the agile coach, who works every day with helping other people avoiding this trap walked straight into it when I got under pressure. The very same pressure that my clients live with every day, and that’s why they walk into this trap. It’s not because people are dumb or evil or not agile enough that they do this, it’s because we are human. I knew this all along but I still somehow thought that this wouldn’t apply to me. It does. It applies to all of us.

The trick here is not to try to become machines that don’t react to pressure or any other circumstances in a human way. The trick is to recognize the situation that we are in and to understand what this type of situation does to us.

4 Responses to “Sucker Punch To My Agile Ego”

  1. John Inge Says:

    1. I argued he had 2 hats on. The teacher telling us our assignments and the customer, saying that confused us… well as he later said. It is the assumptions you think are obvious that will kill you.

    • morgsterious Says:

      Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment John. I agree that the setup was deliberate and devious, but it was also necessary for this learning to occur. I have a million excuses for my actions but they are all quite useless. It was a very pressured situation and not entirely realistic but I will end up in highly pressured situations in the future and my gut feeling is going to play tricks on me again. Hopefully I will be better prepared next time though to recognize the situation and take the time needed to make a better decision.

  2. […] read a blog post by Morgan Ahlström the other day called “Sucker Punch to My Agile Ego”, in which he describes a situation where three teams were all told by the customer that they […]

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