Endless Tools at Our Fingertips: Getting Started
In a world loaded with screens and software, we have endless opportunities to learn. We have libraries and universities in our pockets. We are surrounded by people with vast skill sets to teach us. With no lack of resources, the only challenge we face is deciding where to begin.
A Lesson from a 2-Year-Old
I am always amazed when I look back at videos of my 2.5-year-old daughter. It’s amazing how much she has learned and how quickly she has transformed. One of the many things I admire about her is her ability to keep trying and to keep learning. She adjusts quickly and is open to change.
A few months ago, she tripped and hit her head on a staircase that earned her a trip to the ER. When we got back to the house, she did something amazing. She grabbed my hand and said, “Dad, I need to go down those stairs.” This is how we should all aspire to learn and develop, and it’s this mentality that drives agile development.
Planning to Change the Plan (Flexibility)
Creating a roadmap for a project is not so different from preparing for a road trip. You can plan every stop, but the long journey will bring unexpected traffic and road conditions. When we hit things that appear as roadblocks, we quickly find new paths to get us safely to our destination.
In the same way, agile software development gives us an opportunity to quickly make adjustments and course corrections to move forward. And, when we make those adjustments quickly, we afford ourselves an unexpected new view and vision we might not have known otherwise. We don’t stop. We adjust, learn and press on to our destination. Failure only happens when we give up, and the roadblock itself is only another tool for us to learn and grow.
Learn Fast with “Happy Little Accidents”
A common phrase in the agile world is “fail fast, fail often” and it has a heavy punch, but ultimately, it’s all about learning.
The late painter and instructor Bob Ross used to say, “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents”. As he would paint, he would remind his students that they could turn what they might consider an improper stroke into another dimension of the painting.
In the same way, the Agile Manifesto prioritizes the need to respond to change, allowing us to inspect and adapt quickly and contextually. It allows for evolution and constant improvement. We learn from and utilize the “happy accidents” in stride to expand and contract products progressively to improve both the technical elements of software and the user experience.
Harmonizing with the Music
Consider a band playing music together. Each musician has a skill set that helps create layers that ultimately contribute to and deliver a melody that listeners understand, but none of them can do this without a broader understanding of the song and of the other instruments and voices. They collaborate and learn from one another, which allows them to adjust and deliver something even more meaningful.
No matter the career, the hope is that people will continue to evolve in their craft. We are expected to be experts in what we do, but sometimes that is the cost of not understanding what others are doing around us. In the agile world, there is a concept of a cross-functional team that closely resembles the musicians noted above. The goal is to not only have people with high skill sets in their practice (development, UX, project management, etc.), but also to share a broader skill set across the other practices. The statement “It’s not my job” is a missed opportunity.
An amazing output of having a team that shares a common knowledge and skill sets is not only an effective product, but a team of people with more skills than when they started. The people who make up these teams are constantly collaborating and learning from one another. In agile, every team is an opportunity for the cross-functional team members to share and learn more about other practices and collaborate.
Teachers and Students at the Same Time
My hope is that we will take a step back and realize that we all still have a lot to learn. Be a student first. As Stephen Covey writes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “seek first to understand, then to be understood." This helps us to truly comprehend one another’s needs, and it’s a powerful tool for servant leaders trying to serve a team. It also naturally allows us to learn more about other practices and processes.
The other side of the coin is that we are all teachers sharing our knowledge and experience. There is a chart, diagram or infographic for everything these days, but the most powerful knowledge is gained through experience. If we are as transparent about the difficulties as we are boisterous about the successes, it can dramatically improve the experience someone else has.
As stated by philosopher George Santayana, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Compounded experiences allow teams and people to grow and teach from their own experiences and can oftentimes prevent difficulty.
Final Thoughts and Taking Baby Steps
Going back to the illustration of my daughter, I want to reiterate that we are all learning. She learned a painful lesson and I learned persistence. She strongly demonstrated a growth mindset. In her mind, the failure of falling again was not a limitation, but it was an opportunity to grow. She took the opportunity and reached out to take my hand, which I think is key to learning and a major component of agile.
Be open to a helping hand, use the tools around you, and understand that failure only happens when you stop moving forward. It’s a privilege to be alive and to be together, and we should not take it in vain. Let’s learn together, teach together, and remember that it’s only together that we will be able to walk down the stairs.
projekt202 is the leader in experience-driven software design and development. We are passionate about improving the experiences that people have with enterprise and consumer digital touchpoints.