Change happens. One of the many things Ward Cunningham taught me years ago was that Agile isn’t about fast. It’s about "responding to change." It’s the Agile way.
I thought it was great that rather than pretend change doesn’t happen, simply embrace it.
Simplicity was another aspect that I found compelling. Ward had a way to keep things simple. If something felt heavy or complicated, he would cut right through — "What’s the simplest thing we can do now?" Rather than get overwhelmed or lost in analysis paralysis, he simply decides to take action.
I remember thinking how sweet it is to put your burden down, and travel light.
One burden for me was all the stuff that was yet to be done. The other burden was all the stuff that might matter someday. The problem is, how do you plan for what you don’t know or can’t expect? You don’t. Instead, you figure out the most valuable thing now to work on, and when you come to a bridge, you cross it. When there’s no bridge, you build one. If that becomes the next most important thing now.
The sense of now vs. someday maybe is important. There’s something empowering about knowing that you’re on the right path, and that the path you’re on flows value — to yourself, for others, or whatever matters. Mistakes turn into lessons, and success builds momentum. Paving a path of value down a road of learning and responding beats betting on a map that no longer works or is no longer relevant.
Speaking of relevancy, time changes what’s important. All the things we think we know, and all the things we thing we want, don’t always match what we find, once we’re there. The ladder may be up against the wrong wall, or the grass isn’t any greener. In fact, sometimes there’s no grass.
The irony is, the trip is lighter when we don’t carry the burden, and the trip mean more when we know it matters. If we don’t enjoy the journey, and we don’t end up with what we want, what’s the point? Life’s short. Throwing your time and energy down a path should matter. But, how do we carve out these paths that matter?
Stories. Stories help you find what matters. I remember the first time Ward asked me to tell him a story. He wasn’t looking for once upon a time. No, he wanted to explore and test possible paths. He wasn’t interested in a laundry list of requirements. He wanted a simple story told from the user perspective of a single, meaningful goal. We used the whiteboard and mapped out one scenario. Disney would have been proud.
This one chunk of value was compelling. The story put things in context. The flow made sense. Value was obvious and explicit. More than that, it was testable. A testable chunk of value. We could test whether it mattered, and we could test whether it was feasible. We could even test the risk early and reduce the gap from what we know, don’t know, and need to know next.
Having a story helped us do a dry run. The dry run produced immediate feedback. Feedback is a good thing, and it supports learning and responding, the Agile way.
All this goodness in approach, painted a better picture, of a better way forward. Rather than over-engineer up front, or over-plan for some day maybe, start flowing value now. Rather than travel with burden and assumptions, travel lightweight and sustainable. Rather than fear change, allow for it, and embrace it – be adaptable. But does this approach to work, also work for life?
I asked Ward how he did his career planning and figured out his year ahead. He said he simply works backward from the experiences he wants. He writes his story forward, by focusing on the experiences he wants to create. He leads an experience-driven life. What a simple, yet elegant, and insightful approach. What an empowering way forward.
The journey is the trip and the destination. It’s the way we travel and it’s the end in mind. It’s the Agile way.
This is why my latest book is Getting Results the Agile Way.