I Love Agile, I Hate Agile

agile project

I am in an agile project. I love it.

I am working in an agile HR/IS software development project right now (as a team member). It is the first time for me. I love it. We changed our way of working from waterfall to agile a year ago in this project, since we realized the entity is too large for us to plan ahead, and changes just keep coming. It has developed our team enormously, we have let a collaboration tool (Basecamp) evolve to support our communication and work, we have let a meeting structure evolve to support our work. We have iterated and changed both the tool and the meetings structure according to our need.

There would be NO turning back to waterfall.

One of our process specifications is going through its 25th revision. Read this HR’s: Twentyfive changes into a process, because we identify new connections and requirements as we go. We could never have foreseen them. If we had asked the developers to develop the software on the first specification, we had ended up with a pile of pure bollocks. We have, in our team, found out how to deal with uncertainty, how to re-iterate, re-design, re-prioritize.

There is a flow in our collaboration, that I never experienced in traditional project work. Not being in the project coach role, but sometimes stepping back and observing it all is so intriguing that I just purely love it.

I am in an agile project. I hate it.

I am in an agile software project and I hate it. Instead of keeping the workflow healthy, this project has turned into deadline driven delivery, where we as a team are pushing our limits in performance, endurance and collaboration skills. We still want to take most changes in consideration, since they are essential to make the damn software work.

I find myself irritated when there are delays, because my own work is delayed. Delays are frequent. Delays are due to my own workload is too big, some of our team’s workload is to big, customer brings in new requirements or we have misunderstood something, an IT-partner is delayed with providing something (outside the project, but still affecting delivery, because of dependencies we will be delayed). There are just so many detailed things happening simultaneously, and I do not seem to read the complex entity that well. I feel insecure.

Oh My Goodness, This is exactly like handball – this is like the semi finals and time is running out.

This is where I realized, I have been here before. We have exactly the same dynamics as in team sports on the field. Time is running out and the game is tight. You feel like your team is not performing too well. You become afraid of losing.  Once that thought hits you, and you are not too experienced, you start protecting your own ego. “It is not me, it is that person who is not passing the ball”. “I did my best defense, but that other person let that goal slip through”. “I’m not the crucial player here, if our star is not performing on top, then how could we win?”.

That is how I was thinking in my junior years as a not-too-important player. I also could not see the game as an entity, but as a series of small events (all to be controlled). I did not have the experience to tell which were the important levers, the things to pay attention on in the game, and which of the thousands of details are irrelevant or less important.

Right in this exact moment, during this difficult time when time is running out and you are not performing too well, is where real team players and experienced players bring in their calm, winning spirit.

When Stopping Is The Best Thing One Can Do

The best thing can be to stop, very briefly. Breathe. Identify your thought patterns, and choose the high road. That is what I learnt to do when I was a senior player (not-at-all-that-important-gamewise). I was given field time when the mental going was getting tough, to calm down the talented players. Instead of nagging or ignoring, I helped people concentrate on the next offense. And then on the next defense. One thing at the time. I helped them communicate on what they want to do together in the field. I stopped their nagging about details or each other. And I took effort in showing my appreciation and spirit, anytime someone did something in the positive direction.

You know what? That is contagious! Others started doing that, too. I knew which of the opponent’s players to disturb to get them mentally unbalanced. And I knew how to irritate them. With our failures, I helped to quickly set that aside, and concentrate on your next task. As a senior player, I had seen most situations before, and knew which the focus points were, with the biggest leverage. Most of what happened on the field is irrelevant and natural, let it flow. Growing from watching detailed linear small events (inexperience) to unconsciously sensing the whole system and processing a large flow of interdependent events, identifying only the cues with the biggest impact (experience). That is the difference between being a Junior or a Senior.

When tired from the night’s work, I recognized my thought pattern – “Damnit, they are delayed again, and they made a mistake because they did not read my instructions correctly” – I realized “This is exactly as in the semifinals!”. I can draw from my handball years. Instead of writing an angry e-mail with what I felt in that moment (Junior behavior), I changed my thinking to how a senior in the field would think. What could we change in our ways of working to prevent this from happening again? What is in my sphere of influence? “I should call them more often to check up with them, communicate better”. So, instead of nagging at them in an e-mail I sent them a message, which would reflect what I did in my senior years in the field.

“There are a lot of details hanging in the air right now, I understand if some of them are missed. I appreciate you are stretching so much to get this thing working”.

The IT partner’s CEO called me up to communicate around how to take the next few steps forward. We also discussed these delays and misunderstandings unfortunately are all normal in SW projects. We agreed on how to influence and change our collaboration. I thanked him for having a calming effect on me. Let’s just concentrate on the next important things to get those done. This CEO was the Senior player on the field. I was a Junior within agile software development, luckily with some senior experience from other fields to have enough maturity in handling my insecurities and irritation.

I love handball. It has taught me so much. (I did not love handball all the time. Frequently, in my junior years I hated it). I knew I was going to love and hate the Agile world just as much as I did with handball, but in the end I realized I’ve now turned into a Senior in this field, too. And what a ride it has been!

PS: I’m talking about the teamsport Handball (see Handball federation’s video of it here)

by Riina Hellström

This blog was previously posted in extemporea’s blog 2014, updated to Peoplegeeks 2018 blog, because the learning is still true.

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