Why I Hit the Pause Button

Anna: “But, I thought I was going to learn first?

Dorothée: “Practice beats theory”

From the movie, Anna (2019)

Most car accidents happen within five minutes of home. In fact, a 2001 survey of 11,000 drivers by Progressive Insurance revealed that 52% occurred within a 5 mile radius and 77% occurred within a 15 mile radius.

Why is that?

One reason is we tend to operate on auto-pilot when we’re in familiar surroundings, allowing our subconscious to navigate by memory. There have been times when I’ve arrived home, turned off the ignition and didn’t recall how I got there.

I had a similar feeling recently when lifting off a couple of Agile teams. A basic and common routine I had done so many times before that the process, sequence and steps were committed to memory.

  1. Start with why?
  2. What are the customer expectations and team’s outcomes?
  3. Who needs to be on the team?
  4. How will the team work together?
  5. What skills are missing?
  6. What’s the prioritized backlog of work?

However, instead of crashing into a parked car, the client gave me feedback that they wanted less theory and more action. More doing and less visioning.

It had the same effect as a car crash. After the initial shock, I was disappointed and upset. Snapped out of cruise control and ready to hit the panic button.

Instead, I hit the pause button.

Here’s why…

  1. Drop The Agenda. I let my agenda get in the way of my client’s needs. Agenda is the enemy of discovery.
  2. “Don’t Rob Them Of The Struggle”. That’s a phrase a colleague of mine, Drew Goddard, use to remind me of all the time. Rather than always tell coachees what you think they need, let them struggle to figure it out themselves. Whatever they figure out on their own will stick far longer than what you said.
  3. Experience First, Then Explain. Traditional teaching methods explain the theory first, then have students solidify their understanding of the theory by performing exercises to experience it. There’s an alternative approach that reverses the method. Essentially, “Experience First, Then Explain”. I learned about this approach from Mike Burrows. Whenever I’ve used this approach, the explanation of the theory is always accompanied by knowing glances and a much deeper, more visceral level of understanding amongst the students because they’ve already experienced it.
  4. Learning Styles. People learn differently. Some clients learn best by listening and watching. Beseeching me to just tell them and/or show them what to do. These are also most likely, the people who always RTFM cover to cover before using a product. Other clients learn best by doing. Rather than wasting time to RTFM, these people would rather assemble IKEA furniture by trial and error.
  5. Theory vs. Reality. When teaching a concept, it’s tempting and far more efficient to use proven, ready-made examples. On the other hand, taking the time and effort to integrate a student’s reality into the training amps up the learning and, gives them a head start on applying what they’ve learned.

After pausing to reflect on all of the above, we pivoted.

RYO (Roll Your Own) Team Learning Journey

Rather than continuing to play the standard 6-Step Agile Team Liftoff process before officially starting to work as an Agile team, we’re pausing to let the teams roll their own team learning journeys.

  • Do the minimum training up-front as determined by the team.
  • Launch as an Agile team to start working and learning by doing.
  • Defer all other training as needed based on their level of struggle as a working Agile team.

It won’t be a straight path but then again efficiency can be the enemy of effectiveness. This appears to be true regardless of how simple an engagement may be. It’s a reminder for me to turn off the auto-pilot no matter how familiar the surroundings, and treat every client engagement as unique and special.

“Don’t rob them of the struggle”

– Drew Goddard

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