June 22, 2017

Bridging the Unknown

In an Agile transformation small steps and reassuring inspections of the path ahead are not random practices, they are necessary for everyone

Cover of AgileVox issue 3This article has been previously published in the Coaches’ Corner section of issue 3 (Spring 2017) of AgileVox, the magazine published by the Scrum Alliance.

In the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones follows three clues that lead him to the Holy Grail. One of those cluse implores him to “leap from the lion‘s head.” Faced with a deep, wide chasm – with a lion’s head on one side and empty space ahead – he must step into the unknown. In leaping from the lion’s head he suddendly finds himself standing on an invisible bridge crossing the chasm.

My intent is not to say that Agile is a leap of faith or that you must cast everything you know aside and jump into the unknown. The role of Indiana Jones is for the pioneers who first bring Agile into your organization. They deserve the credit: Whips and cool hats must be passed around.

Those that follow may have a lesser task, but a daunting one nonetheless. In the movie, Indiana Jones throws a handful of gravel and dirt onto the bridge, making it visible and easier to cross. But crossing still takes nerve, and his companions don’t simply stride across the narrow bridge. They take small steps and continually reassure themselves that the bridge is real, if hard to see.

Still from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"

In an Agile transformation, those small steps are iterations or sprints, and the reassuring inspections of the bridge are the regular reviews of working product, or increments. These are not random practices; they are necessary for everyone, from managers to teams, to reassure themselves that the path being followed is trustworthy. While your company’s Indianas have identified the path to agility, your leaders and teams still require continual reassurance as the path is trodden over and over again.

The way we achieve this is paradoxical. We shorten feedback – a lot. That is, instead of keeping sprint lengths longer so that teams are able to gain experience delivering in four-week, then three-week, then two-week cycles, we encourage them to take a (small) leap of their won, going immediately to one to two weeks.

Shortening the sprint length alone isn‘t enough, though. We also need to help teams deliver working product – an increment of functionality, however small and inconsequential, that the team feels confident can be released then and there. Make this simple. Encourage teams to keep their sprints as short as they dare, and then take the smallest amount of work they feel confident they can deliver in a single sprint. If they try and fail, get them to deliver even less, but help them make what they do deliver shippable.

We know why this works. Every complete sprint allows the team to learn and adapt their ways of working. The shorter the sprint, the more opportunities to learn and adapt. However, learning is only possible when there is something tangible to inspect at the end of a sprint. Something that is complete and ready to go live allows the team to learn about all aspects of the way they work. And management gains confidence in how Agile works, turning their attention from the mechanics to the results.

An interesting thing happens as work is delivered at the end of each sprint. Teams learn and adapt, making changes that make the next piece of work easier to complete. Taking small steps and delivering shippable product creates a virtuous cycle. The leap becomes a careful crossing of a barely visible bridge, which quickly becomes a saunter across a well-traversed one.

Still from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, © 1989 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Image of davesharrock

Dave Sharrock

Agile coach passionate about getting things done; helping teams exceed expectations, delivering organizational excellence, and all while having fun doing what they do.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Image of davesharrock

Dave Sharrock

Agile coach passionate about getting things done; helping teams exceed expectations, delivering organizational excellence, and all while having fun doing what they do.

Latest Posts

Leading and Lagging Indicators: What is the right way to measure performance?

How can you measure and track your performance using leading and lagging indicators? 

Image of hwong

Hazel Wong

Marketing Assistant at agile42. Passionate about gaining insights from data in order to create content that resonates with the audience. Eager to help teams and companies open their mindset about the application of agile methods to address their challenges.

Changing organizational culture at Siemens Digital Factory

Siemens DF extended the use of agile methods the right way, through a thorough adoption of the essence and practice of being Agile

Image of kpogorzala

Konrad Pogorzala

Presenting at the Regional Scrum Gathering South Africa 2018

agile42 present at the Regional Scrum Gathering to be held in Durban, South Africa, 8-9 November 2018

Image of joperold

Joanne Perold

Agile Coach in South Africa. Explorer, learner, experiencer, part time philosopher, working with teams and organisations to be more agile.

Scrumtisch December 2018

The Berlin Scrum User Group meets on December 13th at agile42, Gruenberger Str. 54, 10245 Berlin.

Image of aballer

Alexandra Baller

agile42 Team Assistant

Motivation to Get Better

When Turkish real estate site Zingat realized that their Scrum adoption suffered from anti-patterns, they decided it was time to improve

Image of ayse.turunc

Ayşe Turunç

As an Agile coach, I strongly believe in people talent, in collective intelligence and that happy teams are more efficient. I'm looking forward to put my talent to help teams and individuals to work better together and grow.
Image of ebru4984

Ebru Yalçınkaya

I act as a change agent where the teams, domains need to enhance agility to reach their goals, to create a shared vision if needed. I coach every kind of team , every domain, like management teams or like customer care, technology and sales groups.