I believe that we subconsciously apply Agile approaches every day of our lives and I can only imagine where we could go if we learned to apply Agile principles intentionally. I believe in improvement for everyone. I want to be the “Everyday Agilist”.

I have had the good fortune to watch athletes and coaches work together at all levels of sports. As the parent of two swimmers, I was able to witness what may be the purest of Agile behaviours and a genuine application of Agile principles. Each practice, each season, was built on the premise of enabling every young athlete to be the best they could be; to always strive for their personal best both for their own gratification and for their team.

Let’s start by looking at the Agile values:

  • Individual and their interactions over processes and tools
    • A swimmer with a highly accredited career will not necessarily make the best coach. While the most talented swimmer may be able to demonstrate stroke technique, describe the benefit of each drill, understand which weights will develop which muscles, and which paddles, flippers, and other aids may improve a swimmer, without the ability to interact with the swimmers on his/her team, there is no joy in the practice and the desire to train and compete quickly drains from his/her young charges.
    • A coach who places a priority on interacting with his/her charges and encourages them to develop strong bonds with their teammates enables long-term success. There has to be a reason for his/her swimmers to get up on a frigid Canadian morning to head out to a 5:30 AM practice and then head off to school exhausted, starving, and sporting wet green hair. It is a basic human instinct to want to succeed and to surround ourselves with friends in a common pursuit.
  • Working software or solution over comprehensive documentation
    • Every good swim coach knows that even sending home a permission slip in a soggy swim bag is tempting fate and, in fact, the only time I ever saw any written instructions was from a swim class listing the steps of artificial respiration for my 4-year-old. Clearly, her ability to read the documents was lagging somewhat behind her ability to swim the distances and strokes required for the class.
    • In the case of the athlete, the solution is the race. All preparations are geared to being able to get the young racer on the starting blocks and racing! What fun and anticipation to be able to achieve that first race in each stroke and distance. How challenging and exhilarating to set lower target times and achieve personal bests the next time.
  • Client collaboration over contract negotiation
    • No coach would ever guarantee that a child will make a certain standard or win a championship. Collaboration is always the key to development; a recognition of potential and a plan to get there. There are a lot of “ifs”: if you come to practice, if you work hard, if you listen… then, together we may be able to reach the target time for a provincial or national championship. The results are never guaranteed and there is give and take from both sides.
  • Responding to change vs. following a plan
    • Along the road there are injuries, setbacks changes, and growth sprouts that must be dealt with. It is imperative that the coach and swimmer handle these together, openly and honestly, with changes to the training regime in order to ensure the long-term health of the athlete. There must be flexibility in the practice plan to allow for all eventualities. Indeed, the plans laid out in September may be achieved before the new year and new ones may have to be formulated.

Now let’s look at the Scrum components in the life of an athlete:

  • Each athlete is playing a dual role of developer and Product Owner, striving to deliver their best race even if they never make it to the Olympic Games.
  • Each coach is a Scrum Master making sure that their young charges follow the Scrum approach and rituals while removing obstacles that arise.
  • Each part of the season is its own sprint with a sprint backlog of target times, skills to be learned, and races to be delivered. Like any good sprint backlog, the targets are defined in such a way that they are both unique to the individual athlete and chunked small enough to be achievable within the sprint.
  • Each practice is a day in the sprint with drills and mileage designed to focus on a small list of deliverables from the sprint backlog. Each practice starts with a daily scrum to discuss the day’s plan and any challenge (such as injuries) to be considered.
  • The athletic coach has the flexibility to deviate from the planned practice should a particular issue surface. For instance, if everyone is performing a particular stroke incorrectly, he/she may exchange some mileage for instruction.
  • Each meet becomes the sprint review; a chance to showcase what has been delivered during the sprint.
  • After each race, the athlete and coach analyze them to determine the changes for the next race in the meet. At the end of the meet, all of the learnings become part of the retrospective, with plans to continue what is working and adjust what is not working for the next sprint.
  • Each season or sprint ends with a celebration of success that is shared by all!

Finally, no matter what the goals were at the start of their career, each athlete eventually retires… While many started their careers looking for Olympic gold, the true is that except for a handful in each generation, this is not the reality… This does not mean that each career is not a success… Whether the career ends with the attainment of a provincial standard, national or international podium, each athlete takes away lessons and achievements from their own individual experience.

What I find most delightful is that both of my daughters are now applying Agile principles in their adult lives! One continues as a coach where she is the Scrum Master for a new generation of athletes, and the other has entered the world of business where she asks daily: “How can I make this better?” When they read this, I bet they will be surprised to learn that they are Agilists after all.

Do you have a story of a young athlete or an Agile everyday experience that you would like to share? Can I help you on the journey from being a subconscious Agilist to a conscious one? I would love to hear your comments and to continue this journey with you.

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Barbara Schultz

I believe that in order to be successful in the 21st century, one must not just manage and cope with change, one must aspire to be transformational. But how does one learn to “think outside of the box”? As a lifelong learner, I want to be a part of your transformation journey. My experience as a corporate change management and process specialist has allowed me to develop my Lean, Agile and Six Sigma skills into a varied toolbox to simplify change management and development. My training as a life coach and mental health facilitator provides a collaborative human touch to add heart and happiness to the experience. After all, Lean is really about finding the shortest distance between two points by leveraging the power of your people. I look forward to providing your team with the training and consulting services that will simplify and demystify your transformation journey.

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