Agile Habits

Google “Aristotle quotes”. Here’s the first one I see:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

(Oooh. Starting with philosophy. Dorky. I like it.)

In his book “Atomic Habits“, James Clear builds off of this notion. Habits are those actions we take without trying – they’re automatic. The reason they’re automatic is we have found value in making them automatic – we either do them very frequently, or we have practiced them a lot. The benefit of automating them is so that we save brain energy to think through things that are novel, or things that matter, instead of things we do with a high enough frequency, like brush teeth before bed, or wash hands after coming back home, or wiping our sword on the grass before putting it away after the weekly field battle for the Hill of Arowyn with the neighbouring tribe.

(Oooh. An attempt at a Welsh word. Gaelic. I like it.)

Now, I haven’t fully figured this out yet, but I have a strong inkling that improving our habits is a manifestation of the Agile mindset.

(Oooh. A display of vulnerability, followed by a bold statement. Literally. I like it.)

Look at Scrum. It does stuff every day. It does stuff every Sprint. (Industry standard: two weeks.) While these recurring events may not be to allow our team’s collective brain energy to take on more worthy tasks with time outside these events, it does allow, nay: prompt, for particular conversations during these events. Hmmm. So the frequent gathering itself isn’t what’s actually valuable. The value is in what you all do when you frequently gather. This is the meaningful habit. The recurring meeting in your calendar is the meta-habit.

  • Meeting fortnightly for Sprint Planning is the meta-habit. Discussing & ‘committing’ as a whole team to a team-determined Sprint Backlog is a meaningful habit.
  • Meeting daily for Daily Scrum is the meta-habit. Discussing & ‘recommitting’ as a whole team to that possibly-modified Sprint Backlog is a meaningful habit.
  • Meeting fortnightly for Sprint Review is the meta-habit. Soliciting & receiving feedback regarding what the whole team is building is a meaningful habit.
  • Meeting fortnightly for a Retrospective is a meta-habit. Discussing & ‘committing’ as a whole team to a team-determined actionable item of improvement is a meaningful habit.

Just doing the meta-habits? This is Zombie Scrum. This is doing Scrum for Scrum’s sake. On the outside, it looks like you’re doing Scrum – those meta-habits. On the inside, though, you’re not getting things to done or conducting those most useful discussions – those meaningful habits. You’re ambling around with no meaning… no soul. Zombie Scrum.

(Oooh. That hurts. Poignant. I like it.)

What’s the meaningful outcome of your Agile meaningful habits? Experiments. This is why I look at the Backlog (and Frontlog) as a set of experiments. The iterations on your product (and process), and then learning from them, informs your next experiments. WARNING: Just having a list o’ experiments is not enough. Get those experiments to done, and released, and then get feedback.

Back to Aristotle. Want to be excellent? Great. Have habits. Want to be excellent at Zombie Scrum? Just go as shallow as the meta-habits. Want to be Agile? Go as deep as the meaningful habits, resulting in experiments.

(Oooh. He’s done already? Short blog post this time. I like it.)