It was a cold evening as we were walking on the streets of Vienna. We were going to my first ever blues bar, where Leo, one of my colleague was going to join a band to jam for the evening.
‘What should I expect Leo? Do you know them? Do you know their songs?’ ‘No’, came the reply. ‘But you will have an amazing evening, trust me. We are going to play for the love of the music, to entertain the folks who are going to join us. As a musician this is how you learn, this is how you get better’. ‘But what about other ways of getting better?’, came my question. ‘Yes, you can use technical exercises, and sure they are useful and help, but man, this is what it is about. It is about impromptu, it is about adapting to the moment, it is about passion. The purpose of learning music is to play in front of an audience, to entertain. You’ll see’.
In the days preceding this evening I have been thinking about what is really Agile? Why do we care and talk so much about it? Do we talk about the right things? Folks who I highly admire seemed to be at loggerheads on Twitter about the limited value of Scrum, or about how actually some don’t do Scrum properly rather they do a ‘custom’ form of Scrum, about how SAFe doesn’t solve the problems it promises to solve, about how the industry has jumped on the bandwagon of certifications. During these days I was even asked whether I have any sort of ‘Agile certification’? When I said no, it didn’t really matter whether I know Agile, it didn’t really matter whether I had any sort of track record in delivery. I was told that maybe we shouldn’t use my name on the RFP response because the client asked for ‘certified masters’. Many companies spend huge amounts of energy on making sure that they are not being seen not doing Agile to the detriment of their projects and their bigger Agile transformation journeys.
We seem to be focused on getting the method right (or the principles, or the practices, you take your pick), on certifying our people that we lose sight of why we are actually doing it.
As we were walking to this blues bar, half of my attention was dedicated to the discussion with Leo, half of it was trying to make sense of this Agile thing.
We arrived at the bar. It was small but with character. There was no chance of having some decent food, but as the music started, this was soon forgotten. After a few warm up songs, Leo joined the band. He picked one of his twelve harmonicas and he joined them. What it followed was pure bliss. Passion, collaboration, focusing on one thing only — entertaining the folks who went there for the music.
So there it was, Agile in action. ‘The purpose of learning music is to play in front of an audience, is to entertain.’ The focus wasn’t on having the right technique, the focus was to deliver value. And the value was entertainment. They were not concerned whether their instruments were the newest, or whether they had a certification or not. They shared the single mic they had, they improvised and adapted to each other, creating great music in the process. They poured their soul out, they showed their passion. Yes, they learned how to play music individually through lot of practice, but on the night they came together to perform as a team.
Agile is not the goal, it is only an enabler for delivering value. Define what value is, learn techniques and jam to deliver that value. Same as the blues musicians, show your love and passion for what you do, share your mic, improvise and adapt, all in the name of delivering value. And, as the musicians, you will get better at Agile by jamming as often as you can.