My Approach to Working Agreements

You probably don’t look at your Working Agreement (“WA”) if you have one. Your team put in the effort, and it’s not fully serving you – what a waste! OR… Your team has never put in the effort, so y’ain’t got one – what an opportunity!

Look… I’m not going to sell you on why having one of these is a useful idea. The following is how I use 45 minutes to get 5-9 agreements a team of 5-9 people can start with, and then we iterate, resulting in a living document.

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Best In Shu

Let’s get #BestInShu trending.

Hashtag proposal: #BestInShu – annotate / celebrate behaviour of individuals / teams as they toe the line between Shu & Ha in their solid accomplishing of specific Agile practices, or clear embracing of the mindset / particular Agile principles.

Forget “Do Re Mi” – we be talkin’ “Shu Ha Ri”.

Amongst Agilists, we like sprinkling in Japanese words where appropriate: Kaizen (actionable item of improvement), Muda & Mura & Muri (3 kinds of waste, from Lean, from The Toyota Production System), and here: Shu & Ha & Ri (competency model). Here’s how I think of them.

  • Shu – do the forms
  • Ha – tweak the forms
  • Ri – be formless

In the beginning, you are Shu – a beginner, an apprentice, a learner. Since you don’t know much, and there are many who have come before you, the advice is to copy. In martial arts, repeatedly practice those sequences of movements – you will feel that this is useless, and that you’re better than this, but if you want mastery, start here. In Scrum, follow the Scrum Guide and do all the events – you will feel that this is useless, and that you’re better than this, but if you want mastery, start here.

In Shu, there are standard ways of doing things. As a beginner, just copy these. This Shu stage takes discipline & repetition.

After some time, you are Ha – advanced, a journeyman, a practitioner. Since you have spent more time practicing, you have also experienced more of a craft, as well as the different contexts in which to apply your craft. In martial arts, mix ‘n’ match those moves as you react and then respond to the environment. In Scrum, adapt the framework to better suit the team and context, e.g., I have had teams refine one backlog item at the very end of the Daily Scrum, allowing time through the day for folks to investigate the next prioritized & unrefined item.

In Ha, there are still standard ways of doing things. Now that you’re advanced, break these rules thoughtfully. This Ha stage takes sensing & responding.

Once eons have passed, you are Ri – an expert, a master, a trainer. I think of a local comedian who’s no longer on the circuit, Chris Coxen. He gets up on stage as Barry Tattle in a burgundy velvet suit, with a mustache and shades, swanky music playin’, and… he riffs. A line that has stuck with me is, “I don’t tell jokes. I exist.” (I later found him and told him how deep that line is. He told me that he didn’t prepare it, and he rarely remembers what he says because he’s so in flow in his character. Chris really does… exist.)

In Ri, you know there will always be forms. As an expert, you know the reasons behind them and act not from the forms, but from ‘the why’ behind the forms. This Ri stage takes embodying a deep understanding, and giving, often by teaching.

This is how I think of the competency model. There are plenty of other descriptions out there if you’re not satisfied with what I’ve got here. Anyway, I share all this as context for my hashtag proposal up above.

Let us celebrate instances of advanced newbiness! These are milestones on a journey that takes time, perspiration, and patience, so positive forms of nudging should be welcomed, and encouraged.

#BestInShu

Out-Agiled by Nursery School

It’s true. It’s embarrassing. I’m so proud.

My kid’s pre-school, for which I’m on the board, had a call late Thursday (March 12) to close the school starting Monday (March 16). That Friday (March 13), the director talked to the kids during Circle Time (whenever I talk about a Daily Scrum with my daughter, I highlight this as her equivalent) about the school closure over the next two weeks.

First of all, that sense of transparency, as much as she could conduct without instilling Coronavirus-fear, and placing some trust in the kiddos, is rather Agile in spirit. Love it. This wasn’t where I was out-done, though.

When I did drop-off that Friday, I was told they were interested in doing a video conference with all the families, so that each day we could do a dance party and read stories – keeping that connection between the kids and teachers, maintaining a semblance of normalcy during these times of Social Distancing.

“WE CAN USE ZOOM!” I exclaimed, pulling from my corporate experience, “I HAVE A FREE ACCOUNT! PEOPLE CAN JOIN FOR FREE!” I was excited to be able to provide some help, technically, in these times of need.

So Monday (March 16) rolls around. All the families get an email saying a YouTube channel was started, new videos uploaded daily. “Cool cool,” I thought to myself, before zipping an email their way, “SO WHEN WE GONNA TEST THIS ZOOM THING OUT? I mean, I don’t care either way, BUT IT’S TOTALLY AWESOME, AND OUR CONNECTIONS WOULD BE LIVE!” I guess I did care either way.

This is the Agile bit you were here to see…

The email response began:

When we all talked about it we were taking it one step at a time. Let’s see how these videos go and our responses and evolve and adapt from there.

Duh. Of course. Agile’d.

I’m so proud.

Three-Minute Sprint

Try it.

And no, that doesn’t mean y’gotta be all strict-Scrum about it by having a Planning meeting, then standing up every 30 seconds, then Retrospecting at the end, followed by a Review session. Plan beforehand. Retrospect & Review afterwards. Sit down for the full three minutes.

Get yourself to focus for a full three minutes on something, where you may not have a potentially shippable output, but there is some micro-milestone you can claim.

Try it.

What you’ll find is this kick-starts your productivity. You’re giving yourself space to work towards something. Sometimes it feels silly, but at least for me, most of the time I blow past the timer and keep going.

This idea pops up when building habits. Pulling again from “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, when implementing “The Third Law – Make It Easy”, he recommends starting with repetition over perfection. This is what is meant by the initially counter-intuitive phrase, “quantity over quality”.

Frequency builds habits. So make it easy by finding and doing the miniature version of the habit you really want. Want to do 10 push-ups? Do and be satisfied with 1 push-up. Want to focus on work for 30 minutes? Do and be satisfied with 3 minutes. It’s the frequency of the exercise session and the work session that builds those habits, so you might as well make it easy.

The book calls this the “Two-Minute Rule”. I like three. Partially ’cause I’m Merrill The Third, and partially ’cause my daughter has these hourglass sand timers. We don’t have a two-minute one, but we do have a three. This analog solution is very satisfying.

Try it.

Who knows. It might kick-start anything you tell yourself you want to do, like, say, oh, I dunno, write a blog post first draft in 30 minutes, just as an example. Insert winkie-face here.

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.)

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