Deep Learning at Agile 2008

Sometimes you find the lesson you need in the oddest place.  I went to Agile 2008 in Toronto all ready for the revelations that would come from talks given by experts and workshops by people whose books I’ve read.  Those were good and I got a lot out of them but my deepest learning came in an unexpected place – in the Scrum/XP immersion called “Fashion Cycle.”


Just imagine a mash-up of Project Runway meets Agile – that was Fashion Cycle. About 12 of us arrived at a conference room to find odd things such as sewing machines, ribbon, old conference t-shirts, scissors and mirrors.  Led by Tobias Mayer, the purpose of the session was to create outfits that put a spin on the typical conference-wear.  The requirements were simple: create an outfit as envisioned by your product owner and feature the Agile 2008 logo and sponsors.  I was all ready to be a Product Owner for the session.  I had envisioned a Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, outfit complete with headdress made from planning poker cards.  Alas, Cleopatra was not to be.  We had too many Product Owners, so I decided to be a team member instead.


I don’t know why I never realized this before, but I have no idea what it’s like to be a team member.  I have always been an Agile Coach.  What rich insights came to me as I felt what it’s like to be “on the hook” while also learning new technologies and dealing with uncertainty as the product emerges.  Here are a few specific revelations:

  • As soon as I knew “my task” for the next sprint, I wanted to start working even though others were still planning.  The pressure of personal performance led me to tune the rest of the team out.  My feeling was, “Can we just move on, please?”

  • I got so frustrated with the ScrumMaster offering (probably) valid observations about how the team was working together.  My defenses went up and I had a hard time staying with the conversation as he kept offering observations.  I wanted to just hide out until it was over, so I stopped talking.

  • I was learning a new technology; in this case, Stitch Witchery.  I was reading the instructions, trying it out and making mistakes.  As the timekeeper called out, “10 minutes left in the sprint” I felt panic.  Under the microscope and under time pressure, I knew for sure that everyone around me could see what an idiot I was.

  • As the team moved on to create the second outfit, we recognized that there was clean-up work to be done on the first outfit.  Since I had become such a Stitch Witchery expert (really, I had), I was the logical one to do it.  There I was, slaving away with the iron and the Stitch Witchery when I noticed the excitement coming from the other side of the room.  Hey, they were over there having fun.  Talking about the next outfit and dreaming up something together.  That’s not fair!  Somehow, I had become the “legacy” maintenance crew and I didn’t like being left out – not one little bit.

Some of this description is tongue-in-cheek but the learning for me is deep.  The feelings that come up when you are a team member are real and valuable.  More importantly, they are to be valued.    

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