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Everything I needed to know about Agile I learned from mountain biking

By:  Kathryn Kuhn, Agile Evangelist - Product Development IT, Hewlett Packard Company

 

First paragraph.jpgAbout two years ago my family started picking up Mountain Biking in earnest.  I am blessed with living in Northern California where all this open space means we have fantastic single track which winds through forests, meadows, creeks and rewards you with fantastic views of the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  We invested in the bikes, protective gear, trail maps and eventually a GPS.  I've been practicing Agile in its various forms for about 11 years now (much of it prior to joining HP I must add) and it dawned on me on a recent ride how similar the two pursuits are.

 

 

               

Bend your knees

If you play any sport where balance is important the first thing they always teach you is about your stance.  In almost every case the first thing you learn is to bend your knees.  It helps your body react to the need to change direction, jump, stop.  In the case of mountain biking, bending your knees helps you better cope with the ever-changing terrain beneath you.  In mountain biking, you are constantly assaulted with rocks, branches, dirt or whatever that is always on the trail in unexpected places.  Bending your knees is the best way to cope with all these small unexpected changes so that you "float" over these small obstacles.knees.jpg

 

In Agile, we embrace change as a fact of life and even plan on change.  Instead of dreading or trying to control change, we expect change and instead "bend our knees" so that the team can more easily float over daily distractions and disruptions.

 

Lift your gaze

One of my first times out mountain biking I found myself staring intently at the ground about 3-5 feet in front of me and tried desperately to steer my front tire around every obstacle. I found myself constantly nervous and anxious, afraid to peddle too fast for fear of making a mistake and I was constantly surprised by the change in elevation so that every climb up a hill (no matter how small) was a grind.  My coach (aka my husband) said "lift your chin and therefore your gaze to be about 100 feet in front of you and only glance down as necessary."  What a difference!  I could now plan so much more of the ride taking into account changes of elevation, technical sections and even enjoy the scenery.  I stopped sweating all the small stuff under my tires and learned to trust that my bike would just ride over all these small rocks and ruts I was so obsessed with.

 

In Agile, we insist on all layers of planning all the time - product, release, sprint, and daily plans all inform each other as does real-time feedback from production.  As an Agile leadership team, if we make sure we "lift our gaze" ahead to each release and even multiple releases ahead, we can build up enough momentum (think roadmap or runway) for the team so they can more easily execute on their sprint-level and daily plans without the constant scrutiny (and disruption) of management intervention.

 

Earn your downhill

We recently rode on a trail at the top of Skyline Ridge called "Crazy Pete's Trail."  We parked the car at the top and rode Crazy Pete's Trail through some fantastic downhill, descending awesome switchbacks, jumping logs and dodging branches and rock outcroppings.  We got to the bottom and celebrated with high fives and proclamations of "what an epic downhill!"  Then it dawned on us.  We had to ride back up that trail (or its equivalent) to get back to the car.  We seriously considered abandoning the car but eventually relented and spent the next hour plus climbing slowly back up and bemoaning the effort involved.  After that experience, we always plan our rides to front-load big climbs so that we can feel like we have earned that thrilling downhill.

 

In software development the equivalent experience is "The Pilot."  All too often we peel off the easiest scope to implement and put it into production (with much fanfare and good-feeling) and call it The Pilot.  Then we turn our attention to the next set of scope priorities and find out that a lot of that work is "hard."  This often leads to long gaps between the launch of The Pilot and the launch of a true Release 1.  Agile values insist that we face our fears early and work on the riskiest/most difficult scope items in our first sprints.  Agile embraces integrating systems early and often during the development of a release.  This way we can enjoy implementing some of the easy scope along the way with the assurance that we have indeed "earned" it.

 

Enjoy the journey

On the first couple of trips I was really busy getting oxygen to my lungs, focused on shifting properly, picking a precise line through technical sections and trying to bike "perfectly."  Then I fell.  It hurt.  Then I fell again, and again and . . . well you get the idea.  Sometimes you fall for really good reasons (for example, learning to lean your bike at just the right angle to descend through a sandy switchback - yup - got that wrong a lot).  Sometimes things just happen and you fall.  We have a saying in the group, "if you're not bleeding into your shoe keep peddling." We bike as a team.  We encourage each other, celebrate our own mini-accomplishments with shouts of "cleaned it", laugh at ourselves and make sure that everyone in the group enjoys themselves. It's not about finishing "first" or "best" but enjoying the journey together.

 

Enjoy journey.jpgIn software development projects, all too often we bemoan mistakes, sometimes even seeking blame.  We try to optimize decisions so much that we are often paralyzed into making late or no decisions (which in itself is a decision). Agile encourages teams to take risks, make mistakes. 

Embrace your falls and learn from them (maybe even laugh) but then get right back on that bike and peddle.  We celebrate the small things in Agile by doing brief retrospectives at the end of every sprint.  It's the equivalent of shouting out "cleaned it" or voicing an encouraging word to a teammate who accomplished something hard. 

 

A fundamental Agile principle is "People Over Process."  We enjoy our projects because of the people we work with not because we completed a project.  Life (and mountain biking) is a group project.  Enjoy the journey.

 

Note:  The pictures are from a recent vacation trip to Stanley, Idaho in pursuit of single-track mountain biking.

 

Related links: 

 

About the Author

 

kkuhn_Profile.jpgKathryn Kuhn, Agile Evangelist - Product Development IT, Hewlett Packard Company

Kathryn is a self-described Agile Evangelist and Chief Analogy Officer at Hewlett-Packard. Kathryn began her career at Accenture in Washington DC, has done service work in Guatemala, moved her family to Singapore and now calls the San Francisco Bay Area home.  She’s been practicing Agile techniques in its various forms for about 11 years in large and small companies.  She has the usual Agile certifications.  She hopes to be a disruptive force to anyone who thinks that the way we develop products is just fine. @kathryn_e_kuhn

Comments
MikeC | ‎01-15-2014 08:54 AM

In parricular I enjoyed the what goes down must go up description!

Edward Raigosa(anon) | ‎01-16-2014 09:35 PM

Great article!  I learned something new after reading this.  Love the stuff in Enjoy the Journey.  Nicley done.

Camozzato | ‎01-16-2014 11:54 PM

Nice analogy Kathryn :smileyhappy:

Kathryn | ‎01-21-2014 04:51 PM

Thanks for all the awesome comments.  Really appreciate the kudos.

KellyS | ‎02-20-2014 03:03 PM

I'm looking forward to you sharing the HP IT Agile Management journey at the HP Software Customer Forum in Atlanta on March 13!

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  • Business Development leader for HP’s Testing Practice in Americas and TaaS Global Capability Leader
  • Anthony works in the ES Apps Enterprise APJ . He is a self-motivated and well-disposed individual. He is a certified SAP FICO consultant. He has over twenty years industry experience in business transformation and Information Technology consulting (SAP). With excellent, interpersonal and communication skills, Anthony is able to influence and motivate at all levels. An empathic team player, He derives fulfilment in contributing towards others' development. Anthony possesses good analytical and problem-solving skills. He is a quick thinker, remains calm under pressure, handles multiple tasks, and accomplishes objectives with excellent time management. He is flexible and accustomed to meeting high standards and deadlines. Anthony possesses practical knowledge of business processes and concepts and has a keen eye for detail. He is aware of the importance of an effective system and quality management.
  • Bryan Coapstick is the Director of Mobile Innovation at HP. In this role, he is responsible for driving strategic mobility initiatives and key industry partnerships to enable clients the ability to leverage the mobile channel to effectively reach their customers. Bryan’s expertise lies with several Fortune 200 companies in both public and private sectors that focus on business technology and emerging strategies. Bryan demonstrates innovative leadership though public speaking, panel discussions and blogging on the various ways mobility is changing our daily lives.
  • Benjamin Romberg has over twenty five years experience in the IT industry, the last twelve of which have been as a testing professional. He has experience as a test analyst, performance tester, automation specialist, test lead, test manager, test consultant and test executive. He has worked on all types of testing engagements ranging from small web based applications through to core system upgrades. Benjamin holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Genetics, a Post Graduate Degree in Software Engineering and an Executive Masters in Business Administration. Benjamin now leads HP’s Testing and Quality Assurance Practice in Asia Pacific and Japan.
  • Over the past 5 years, I have participated in the different stages of delivering Microsoft Enterprise Applications to customers as large as 40.000 concurrent users across Europe with a focus on the public and call center sector. During this period, I worked in numerous technical (lead) and business consultant roles. Using this experience, I am currently a certified Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 expert which specializes in guiding enterprise customers and implementation teams through the process of implementing Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011.
  • Craig has been with HP for 10 years working on the solutioning side as a Solution Architect. Primarily works with Microsoft technologies and has for the better part of 16 years. This past year Craig has worked mostly with Windows AZURE and the mobility side of Windows Phone 7/8 and Android.
  • Master Business Consultant and Distinguished SE with 35+ years of IT experience, specializing in SOA and Integration.
  • Daniel Amor (EMEA, AMOD, Cloud, Portals, Web Apps and SOA domain expert): Daniel has designed, won, led and delivered large-scale, complex applications-related projects by acting as a trusted advisor to clients. Daniel conducts regular training and client-facing sessions, and he has authored six books and numerous articles in European and US-based magazines and newspapers on IT change. He is a regular lecturer and he speaks on Portals, E-Business and Cloud.
  • Global HP Microsoft Business Applications Practice. Microsoft Dynamics CRM subject matter expert. Based in Manchester, United Kingdom. @DarrenCRM on Twitter
  • Solutions Architect working at HP since 2002 with focus on Applications Modernization, located at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Managing Consulting specialising in Business Transformation and Value Management for Defence, Healthcare, Public Sector, Criminal Justice and Telecommunications.
  • Guido Arndt is since May 1997 business consultant and project manager @ Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services. Main focus is strategic and organizational alignment of logistics, sales and production processes in the automotive and manufacturing industry as well as business performance projects in finance and telecommunication industry. Guido has experience as change agent and transformation manager in people-driven merger & aquisition projects focusing government, consulting firms, manufacturing plants and consumer brands.
  • Horia Slușanschi serves as an Agile Coach leading the HP Agile Mentoring Office and the HP Software Engineering Profession. He is passionate about helping teams and leaders to find joy in work in the pursuit of customer delight.
  • CISSP, Open CA Master Architect Technical Consultant with 28+ years of IT experience specializing in Application Security, Solution Architecture, Portals, Social Business, and Integration
  • Jim has been with HP for 33 years and currently leads a global Strategic Capabilities Management team, with a specific focus on Business Analysis and Configuration Management. Jim also manages a team within the US State, Local, and Education division of HP. He was a member of the IIBA committee that created a Business Analyst Competency Model and he participated in the development of IEEE standards. Jim graduated from Harvard University, the University of British Columbia, and Ottawa Theological Hall. He currently lives in Toronto, Canada.
  • SAP Technologist from APPS GD SAP Practice - Manila covering SAP NetWeaver EP, SAP Mobility and general SAP solutions.
  • WW product marketing manager for HP Applications Modernization and Transformation Consulting Services. 35+ years of IT technology and services experience.
  • Laurence has over 35 years experience in the IT industry and has spent 27 years delivering knowledge management (and before that became fashionable, Artificial Intelligence and knowledge-based systems) transformation projects to clients in Government, Industry, Manufacturing and Telecomms industries. He has developed and implemented knowledge management (KM) strategies for HP's clients and for business areas in HP (for BPO and for our Consulting business) and believes that KM strategy is essential for an effective KM practice.
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  • Lori Lewis leads Global Digital and Integrated Marketing for the Applications and Business Services division in HP’s Enterprise Services. The organization is focused on providing clients with enterprise applications services and solutions to solve some of their most pressing business problems. For over 2 decades, she has championed innovative communication approaches to drive and grow market share and build motivated, empowered teams. She is a compelling, passionate ambassador of the art and science of marketing and the amazing results it can achieve when done with integrity and passion. Ms. Lewis’ credentials, track record, and enthusiasm are essential ingredients her team relies on as they work together to establish HP as the undisputed leader in information management and analytics services.
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution architect, C# developer, MBA, husband, father, Auburn man. Follow me on Twitter @lucas_is.
  • CRM enthusiast, avid techie
  • More than 10 years of experience in developing effective and innovative marketing and communication strategies. Recently I have studied the effects of social media and disruptive technology on business, marketing, and culture. Follow me on Twitter: @micaelaraimondi
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  • Have 11 years of experience in SAP Consulting, Solutioning and Account management.
  • I have over 20 years of I.T. experience predominantely in applications development. In addition to my I.T. experience I spent 7 years as the Director of Store Services at Canada's third largest grocery retailer.
  • Shafraz Nasser is the Lead Microsoft CRM Architect with HP Enterprise Services in the South Pacific Microsoft Dynamics Practice. His focus is on selling, architecting and overseeing delivery of Microsoft Dynamics CRM based implementations within New Zealand.
  • Shefali Dua is leading Worldwide BPaaS Strategy & Solution Innovation team at HP Enterprise Services as the Solution Innovation Manager. Her focus is currently assisting in planning and delivery of industry solutions for verticals like social media, big data, mobility and security on the HP Enterprise Cloud offerings for CRM Technologies.
  • Steve Petruno is a Product Manager for HP’s Global Oracle Services with over 24 years experience in the Information Technology industry, project Management, Human Resources, Payroll and Benefits, ERP implementations, upgrades, acquisitions and divestitures.
  • I have worked for HP as a business consultant for seven years, providing process, strategy and business transformation advice in the Financial Services and UK Government sectors. As part of this I have used Lean and Continuous Improvement techniques to assess and improve business performance, ensure regulatory compliance and improve environmental sustainability.
  • Tom is the Global Product Marketing lead for HP's Cloud Applications Services. Tom has over 20 years of experience in information technology and a proven track record for implementing innovative client solutions in several industries including government, healthcare, and telecommunications. He thrives on developing services and solutions which result in business process improvement through greater systems efficiency.
  • Vijay Seetharaman is an Enterprise Architect within HP Enterprise Services - Industry Transformation Consulting practice, focusing on Cloud and Mobility


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