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Agile vacation

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” – Winston Churchill

This is one of the many awesome quotes by Winston Churchill, and one that is particularly useful to remember on software projects. Or family vacations. We just got back from a vacation, and we had our fair share of complications. I don’t know how other people do vacation, but ours always involve road trips, tents, and going to places that include the words “turn left on the unmarked, unpaved road 2.3 miles from the gas station.”

When the vacation plans go awry, as they always seem to, it helps to remember that my kids are watching me when I react, and that they’re learning from how I handle things. A short list of this year’s challenges:

  1. Had to turn around and go back for the hiking poles, which had been inadvertently left in the closet.
  2. The tent leaked on the first night. We threw a couple of tarps over it. It looked pretty ghastly, but solved the problem.
  3. The “well marked trail” turned out to not be marked at all. Fortunately some outfitters run trail rides into the wilderness, so we figured out to just follow the piles of horse manure. Is that fresh? Yep, we’re on the right track. I’ve never been so glad to see poop piles.
  4. My eldest daughter got a painfully wrenched psoas on day 2. We decided to turn around and head back down the mountain instead of continuing our planned 35 mile trek.
  5. Day 3 included a spectacular thunderstorm with hail, which hit just AFTER we had packed up our tents and packs. Luckily, a well strung tarp will protect you from hail. And a warm dog under the tarp with you helps.

When I got back from vacation, it was almost a sense of relief to be back in the familiar world of my project. Except, of course, that on an Agile software project “normalcy” lasts about five minutes. What was I thinking? But, pondering the various project issues we’re dealing with, it turns out they parallel my vacation misadventures quite well.

  1. Turns out the missing hiking poles are very much like the desperate quest for an experienced product owner than one team is facing. Just like you can’t safely backpack without poles, you can’t run a feature team without a product owner. Only finding a good one takes a lot longer than backtracking down Hwy 71 for poles.
  2. The leaky tent is like the ongoing problems we’ve been having with the testing environment. It’s annoying everybody and it slows us down, but somehow we manage to get the job done anyway.
  3. The blazeless trail? Well, that’s pretty much managing the product backlog without clear guidance on prioritization or value metrics. You can draw your own conclusions about the horse turds. Just saying.
  4. The pulled muscle and subsequent change of plans? This reminds me, painfully, of the fact that one of our teams has to completely overhaul a set of services that are inadequate for the size and volume of transactions that need to be processed. Like a leg that can’t hold up your weight, architecture problems can seriously limit your capabilities and impact your project’s velocity.
  5. And finally, the hailstorm. Well, sh*t happens, doesn’t it? And when it does, your team is there with you to weather the storm because you’ve taken the time to build those relationships that, like the tarp, provide just enough protection to see you through the hard times.

I’m pretty sure my kids could qualify as Agile product owners. Although they would laugh at me for saying so.


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