The Deliberate Practice of Being Agile

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he discusses the need to deliberately practice for 10,000 hours before becoming an expert in a chosen endeavor. Ten. Thousand. Hours. If all you did for the next year was practice something non-stop, without sleep, you would be about 90% of the way there.

There is however, a raging debate over the accuracy of the 10,000 hour claim. Some think this number will be different based on the context of what is being mastered. Practice will always be important but more practice is needed for mastering a sport or music and less will be needed for other activities or professions. Others claim the amount of time it takes to master something will be influenced by genetics or the age you first begin practicing. Both valid points.

While I’m not an expert in this field and have not performed any research to validate Mr. Gladwell’s theory, I would imagine most of us have found some amount of disciplined and intentional practice to be an important part of gaining mastery in your chosen area of expertise.

So, all of this did get me thinking. Can we deliberately and intentionally practice becoming a team? Are there ways to intentionally gain agile proficiency through the focused practice of specific activities? Can we find ways to design the improvement of teams and agility into everyday life?

There are times when being agile and finding agility comes very natural (the ability to become agile is already inside a person or team and just waiting to emerge). But for many teams it takes work…and discipline…and practice.

If you are looking for ways to deliberately practice becoming a stronger team and functioning with greater agility and speed, here are a couple of ideas:

Practice encouraging others. It doesn’t take much to give someone a boost…and assume everyone can use one. I’ve written about Extreme Encouragement in the past and one of the first blog posts on Illustrated Agile shared a story about how a small, acknowledging act put a spring in my own step. The doorman in this post found a unique way to practice encouraging others, what’s yours?

Practice gratitude. Practice appreciating what others have done for you and your team. Perhaps you can start by practicing the lost art of writing hand-written notes of gratitude or block off time in the retrospective for team members to share what they appreciate about each other. Retrospective fortune cookies might help!

Practice feedback. Feedback shouldn’t wait until things go bad or the team is discontent. Leandro Herrero suggests added a period of feedback at the end of every meeting. Another practice is the use of a “niko-niko calendar” to prompt the team to share and to probe how they are currently feeling. There are many options to introduce feedback into everyday life so experiment with different techniques.

Practice frequent releases. Many Agile teams I encounter haven’t delivered value to a customer for many, many months as they are still in a large project mindset. Long releases and double-digit sprints have become the norm. Intentionally challenge your team to begin practicing ways to work on smaller work items and potentially deploying after every sprint (or as soon as possible).

Practice accountability. For teams and individuals, nothing builds accountability faster than our previous topic, practicing frequent releases. Frequent releases and subsequent learning from those releases will build accountability between leaders and teams and between technology and business. For leaders, this may mean the practice of letting go of the control you may have on your teams. Deliberately find ways to give your people the space to take more responsibility. It will initially feel uncomfortable but will be well worth it. People need to believe they are in charge of what they’re doing.

Practice thriving in change. A colleague of mine would always say “a product owner should be able to flip their product owner upside down – low priority items are now high and vice versa – and the team shouldn’t miss a beat.” You would probably never do that of course, but you could and the team should barely notice a thing. Discover small areas to introduce change into your environment. When big things change, the team won’t miss a beat.

TODAY’S QUESTION: What techniques and skills are you deliberately practicing to build the bonds on your team and gain speed and agility?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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