What’s your agile binky?

The german version of this post can be found here.
Last friday I found myself in a situation which triggered some interesting inspirations and thoughts, which I would like to share with you. When I leave home in the morning to go to work I need to get to the train station by bike, bus or car before I take the train to Hamburg. This weekend I wanted to participate at the Agile Coach Camp Germany 2011. Since I was supposed to work for half a day and then head to the Central Station to catch a train I opted for the bus in the morning. The bus stop is about 400m from my house and I can nearly see it as soon as I leave. I was quite surprised when I left the house and saw a bus pass, since it was still 2 minutes to go. I hurried to the bus station, hoping it had been the schoolbus being a few minutes late, but when I arrived there I realized that it had indeed been the bus I was supposed to reach. I got quite angry, planning to complain about the driver, and started to search my pockets for my cell phone to check the time again. Grooming through my pockets I found a binky from my two and a half year old daughter and suddenly my anger calmed down.

I imagined my little girl playing, exploring, trying things out, ignoring any borders unless they’re physical. My mind drifted away and I thought about her seeing the world with children’s eyes. Unless somebody like mummy or daddy prevents you to try everything out you just do it because it looks interesting and you’re curious. And if your protective parents are not fast enough you suddenly do something you’re not supposed to do, but you learn something immediately – either because your parents intervene in a quite hectic manner or because the vase falls from the table, floods the floor and gets you wet feet. The only non-physical barriers my daughter knows are the ones we already taught her.

Anyway, I transferred this picture to the environments I usually work in. Through our whole life we’re taught things like “don’t do this”, “this is forbidden”, “do this in this way …”. At first it’s our parents, later it’s teachers, bosses, colleagues. But since we’re so used to obey we usually don’t doubt these restrictions. But if you start thinking about them you’ll realize that lot’s of them are of the kind “we did it this way for ages” (translation: “we don’t know any other way to do it”) or “this is a company decision” (translation: “somebody might have said it sometimes”).

The first kind doesn’t need any further explanation, here’s an example for the second kind: I worked in a project which (within other stuff) was supposed to improve the situation concerning test data for developers and testers. In the beginning someone said “We’re not supposed to use (even anonymized) production data, we need to create synthetic data. This is a company restriction, we know this for years”.

Well, we had got a new CTO two months ago, and confronted with this statement he asked “What’s that bullshit about? Of course we are allowed to use data from production, go and ask the lawyers which constraints there are, make sure we respect these constraints and go ahead with the project”. Et voilá, this was exactly the case.

Working with teams I always encourage them not to take any alleged restrictions too serious but question them. To get the connection to the beginning of this post: Encourage your teams to tear down the barriers in their minds! Make them see the world like a little child: Everything is possible, nothing is forbidden until someone entitled comes and tells you explicitly. And sometimes it makes sense to copy another behaviour from children: Do something despite you know you’re not supposed to do it (You might want to pretend you didn’t know). Sometimes it’s necesserary to cross borders to open people’s eyes.

As you can see this little binky in my pocket triggered a lot of thoughts and even inspired me to write this blogpost. I declared it my talisman for this weekend at the Agile Coach Camp. Thanks to @marcphilipp for inspiring me by proposing a session about the binky. Tell me: What’s your agile binky?

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