Episode 37: Agile Is Not Just for Developers
Managing your to-do list? Making dinner? Doing homework? The principles of the Agile Manifesto, while typically applied to accomplishing a development sprint, can apply to more than you think.
In this episode, Andrew Powell interviews Global Account Manager Elizabeth Wilson (who you’ll recognize from previous Ten Thousand Feet episodes) and Delivery Practice Team Lead Brett Fitzgerald.
Elizabeth and Brett are passionate about using the principles of Agile in everyday practices like planning work and even managing family life. Regardless of your role, we know you’ll get something valuable out of this episode.
Episode 14: Moving Faster With SAFe
Andrew Powell: Hey, everybody. Welcome to “Ten Thousand Feet.” We’re back from a break and excited to welcome a couple of Agile experts at OST. Help us welcome Elizabeth Wilson, a podcast veteran who’s taken a new role at OST as a Global Account Executive, and Delivery Practice Team Lead, Brett Fitzgerald. These two love Agile so much that they’re going to talk to us about a ways to apply it to non-technical roles. So whether you’re in marketing or making tacos, this episode is for you. Enjoy.
Andrew Powell: So we’ve talked a lot about Agile in the podcast, and I’m really excited today to explore Agile in a new way. I’ve asked a couple of people to join us, Elizabeth Wilson and Brett Fitzgerald, to talk about how we might apply some Agile concepts in non-technical ways, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s take a minute, just introduce you both. Elizabeth, I’m so glad you’re here with us on the podcast. You’ve taken a new role since you last were on the show. Tell us about that.
Elizabeth Wilson: I have. As we’ve discussed in the past, I’m deeply rooted in Agile methodology specifically around safe, and now I’m taking a lot of my learnings there that I’ve gained over the years, and moving into a Global Account Manager role.
Andrew Powell: Oh, very exciting. Very exciting. So sort of taking what you do every day delivering for our clients and applying that to opportunities with new clients and expanding opportunities for existing clients, yeah?
Elizabeth Wilson: Exactly. Yeah.
Andrew Powell: That sounds like great, great fun. And Brett Fitzgerald, you work within the delivery practice here at OST. Tell us a little bit about what you do.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah, so I’m stepping actually into Elizabeth’s former position, so I’m the Delivery Team Lead, and former Agile coach, so yeah. So I get to work with the team still, help kind of guide the way that they operate in the way that we function, and kind of take the Agile approach to how we operate as a team internally.
Andrew Powell: That’s great. That’s great. And so both of you then have Agile roots, technology roots. What I want to talk about today is sort of how we expand some of that Agile thinking outside of pure tech work, yeah?
Elizabeth Wilson: Sounds good.
Andrew Powell: All right, so the Agile manifesto has sort of four components. If it’s all right with the two of you, I want to walk through each of those four components, and let’s just talk about sort of what that means to you, and how you see that applying in your technical work, but also in your non-technical work. Brett, hit me up with the first component of Agile.
Brett Fitzgerald: So the first Agile value is individuals and interactions over processes and tools. And so we’re just saying that we want to serve people, we want to interact with our people, more so than want to be beholden to any sort of a system or a processor or a tool set. And that applies like that’s not just the software, came out of software for sure, but it’s not just a software principle, it applies to interactions across the board in any number of environments be in marketing or finance, even just in your personal life you can apply that principle, and meet with success there, kind of breaking out of what’s the process and who are the people who are interacting with.
Andrew Powell: So this is in your mind kind of a break away from sort of the traditional school lingo that is, you can’t do that because that’s not the rules.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah.
Andrew Powell: So just thinking outside of the rules and thinking into the humanity of the situation?
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah, absolutely. I think rules are a great place to start. They’re great at—and I’ve described it so when people talk about, or when I talk about my perception on rules and processes, they’re there to serve the people in the interaction, they’re there to streamline value delivering, whatever scenes you’re talking about. If we’re cooking dinner and we’re following the recipe, it’s because we don’t want to have to spend the time figuring out how to do all this stuff on our own, we want to spend the time, my wife and I spend the time talking to each other and engaging. We don’t want to have to be figuring out food and the process. So that’s where we want to say, “All right, we’ll follow the process.” But then there are times that we want to have that activity of that discovery and the adventure of cooking, you know, and so
Andrew Powell: Yeah.
Brett Fitzgerald:[inaudible] and experiment with those things.
Andrew Powell: That’s such a great example, because my mind naturally, as someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, my mind naturally follows along with that and says, “Sure, I follow recipes all the time, but also, I don’t like cilantro—
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah.
Andrew Powell: so I might follow a recipe and it might be a great recipe, and there’s no way I could have made that dinner if I hadn’t had the recipe, but I’m not going to throw the cilantro in at the end, because I’m not going to follow that one part of the rule, because I know there are humans involved in those humans don’t like cilantro.” And so we pivot our understanding. Huh?
Brett Fitzgerald: Absolutely. And what you kind of dovetailed that into is you started off with, “I don’t like cilantro,” but then we got to “there’s other people, too, that I’m thinking about,” and so are these processes, these tools, are they facilitating, you know, those interactions between these people? So maybe it’s other people don’t—the process of serving them, so how do we bend those rules when we need to?
Andrew Powell: Oh my gosh, what a great point, because I only just recently learned that some people do like cilantro. I’m blown.
Brett Fitzgerald: I like cilantro.
Andrew Powell: I’m blown.
Elizabeth Wilson: I love cilantro. Yes. I’m a member of the Cilantro Club.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah, Team Cilantro.
Andrew Powell: Wow. I mean, apparently a lot of people do, that’s why it’s in virtually every recipe that has been created in the last two years. Oh, our producer, Laura Vaughn, jumping in to say she is also on Team Cilantro. So apparently—
Elizabeth Wilson: 3 to 1.
Andrew Powell: what I need to do is put it on the side. I’ll give you your cilantro I’m just not going to put it into the dish.
Elizabeth Wilson: Yeah, just sprinkle on top.
Andrew Powell: Elizabeth, as you reflect on that first principle of Agile, this idea of individuals and interactions over processes and tools, how does that grab you and your non-technical life? Is that something that you reflect on?
Elizabeth Wilson: Definitely. It ties to something, a sticky note I have by my desk, which is “Build a habit, not a project.” And it’s really about figuring out how to make those habits consistent, or I guess really the act of consistency creates that habit, and then in doing that, to your point, you can fine tune it. You can turn the dial to make sure that it fits your needs and that doesn’t have to follow with technology. It can, let’s see, like from a design perspective, like there’s a process that they typically follow to make sure that the teams that they feed into are successful, or development maybe, so that if they can formulate their proper habits upfront that allow them the flexibility to know when and when they can’t turn the dial. What I mean by that is, you know that there’s some times when you’ve maybe turned it a little too much and now know what that consequences, so having that information of that consequence plays into the next decision that you make.
Andrew Powell: Oh for sure. For sure. And that sounds very Agile-y even though you’re not talking about software. Hmm, fascinating, fascinating. What a great sort of way to think through some of the things we’re trying to solve for.
Well, let’s move on. The second tenant of Agile talks specifically about working software, so I’m interested to see how you spin this one, Brett. Hit me with number two.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah. So it says working software over comprehensive documentation. And so if we’re talking about it in a non-software context, obviously we have to adjust that a little bit, so you can call it the working thing, whatever that thing is. If you go back to the kitchen example, if it’s a working dinner, we have to have a good working dinner over a recipe that tells us the ingredients. Plus, for some reason, nowadays has a three-page story about how this is my favorite recipe that I got off the blog.
Andrew Powell: Hold on a minute. Hold on, this is big. You’re telling me your controversial opinion here is that you don’t like all of the recipe provenance that goes along with the recipe?
Brett Fitzgerald: No, I don’t like that, and I don’t like all the ads that fly in as I scroll down to the actual recipe, but all that to say, the documentation is good. Some people like that, some people that draws them in. Some people really enjoy that documentation, but the delivery, the value that we’re looking for, is that the dinner? And so that’s what our success at the end of the evening is having a dinner that we can eat and enjoy together, not the fact that we’ve added another index card to our recipe notebook. And so that’s kind of the emphasis that we’re trying to push is the value delivery itself.
Andrew Powell: So I want to eat more than I want to have a process that ensures that I’m reliably fed?
Brett Fitzgerald: I don’t know that I’d go that far. There’s definitely—
Andrew Powell: Alright.
Brett Fitzgerald: There’s definitely kind of a, you know, give a man a fish and teach a man to fish there. So it’s good to have the process for sure. They’re both important, but at the end of the day, yeah, you do have to eat.
Andrew Powell: Oh, and honestly I, you know, I was being cheeky. To have the equivalent of working software is a process that reliably feeds me, right? The documentation is the thing that explains how it works.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah.
Andrew Powell: Maybe I don’t need to understand how my computer works to be able to use my computer to find a recipe.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah.
Andrew Powell: Maybe that’s the—I don’t need that documentation—
Brett Fitzgerald: That’s right.
Andrew Powell: in the moment. What I need is access. I don’t know, Elizabeth, what’s your take?
Elizabeth Wilson: I’m really big on planning for what is useful. You can spend too much time or thinking documentation that also ends up looking too prescriptive. Like that’s something that has to be followed versus giving people the space to know what the end goal is and create it however best fits the situation. But really big takeaway to me is plan for what is useful.
Andrew Powell: Plan for what is useful. Yeah, that’s a good note. I’m jotting that down, plan for what is useful. That’s kind of a nice way to frame out how much documentation is really important, is needed. And obviously the goal here is to favor completion, right? Having something that is working that accomplishes the need.
Elizabeth Wilson: It allows you to jumpstart a lot quicker, too. You’re not burying yourself and getting everything right before you start the process of work and whatever that work may be.
Andrew Powell: Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s a great point. Okay. Let’s move on. Let’s talk a little bit about the third tenant of Agile, customer collaboration over contract negotiation. So I’m not sure how our recipe analogy is going to hold up, because we don’t do a lot of customer collaboration or contract negotiation in the recipe game, but let’s try. What do you got for me, Brett?
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah, we can continue that example. We might have to do some mental gymnastics to get there, but again, if it’s my wife and I cooking in the kitchen, we’re not going to sit there at the beginning of the ads—well, maybe we will, but we can sit there at the beginning of the ads, look at the recipe, and say, “I don’t like cilantro. You don’t like parsley, so maybe we’ll just do iceberg—” and we can refactor that recipe at the beginning, agree upon it, and then start building our dinner if you will, if you want to use the software terminology, we start making that. However, if we just say, “All right, let’s jump into this recipe and start making dinner together,” and then we get to the cilantro and I say, “I don’t like cilantro, let’s use parsley,” and she says, “I don’t know. I don’t really like parsley. We go for iceberg lettuce,” and then turns out there’s no iceberg lettuce in the refrigerator, then we can work together to solve that problem and figure out what is it that we’re going to put in here or we’re not going to put anything in there, but if we had been beholden to a contract upfront that contract’s going to crumble under anything that comes up that’s unexpected.
Andrew Powell: Ahh yeah.
Brett Fitzgerald: If we consider it sort of ongoing negotiation instead of an upfront contract that’s negotiation, then that’s what we mean by that collaboration piece.
Andrew Powell: Yeah. I guess where my head naturally goes is sort of the notion that we don’t have to have it all figured out when we start, that the expectation that we have it all figured out before we start gets in the way of our ability to start, that’s as true in the kitchen as it is in front of the computer when we’re building software. That’s great.
I have to take a quick digression though. Are you making tacos in your head? Is that what you’re making, Bratt? I’m trying to figure out what the thing is, that the recipe says cilantro, and then I think maybe parsley, but instead you use iceberg lettuce.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah, that could be. Although, as soon as you brought that up I’m like, “Man, who uses a recipe to make tacos,” but here we are.
Andrew Powell: Alright. I was just trying to piece together in my head the story you were telling yourself.
Elizabeth, what’s your thought on collaboration and the importance of collaboration?
Elizabeth Wilson: Well, the first thing that come to my mind are transparency and how would that collaboration early on how it builds trust, too, versus the contract negotiation. Again, the contract negotiation seems very black and white, cut and dry, where collaboration there’s a lot more communication back and forth, you’re sharing more than maybe normally would that comes out in natural conversation versus documentation, because, you know, if you and I, if I was going to send you an email and just say, “Could you just reply and tell me how you make a cup of coffee,” and you would reply back very straightforward these steps, but if we’re having a conversation, you may actually share more about the type of coffee you use or the type of filter, because you believe it gives more richness, or maybe a creamer or type of sugar that you may get more specific about, or it might turn into the story of when you went to the grocery store or the— your certain market. And that just adds a lot more context to the situation, because we had that collaborative discussion.
Andrew Powell: Yeah. Yeah. In fact, I’ll tell you about cold filtering, because I’m a big fan of cold filtering coffee. It’s a superior way to get the acid out of the coffee and just get the smoothness of the bean for what it’s worth.
Elizabeth Wilson: See, I knew. I knew he would know.
Brett Fitzgerald: We accept that [inaudible].
Andrew Powell: For more tips on coffee, listen to my coffee blog. I’m kidding. I don’t actually have a coffee blog or podcast.
Brett Fitzgerald: I’d read it if you had a coffee blog.
Andrew Powell: I do feel strongly about cold filtering though. No, but Elizabeth, you make a super great point and that is that when you peel it apart, whether it’s technical or non-technical, it’s about trust that one of the values of collaboration is that it builds and encourages trusting relationships, and contract negotiation sometimes feels like antitrust. It’s trying to lay down the rules, so when you don’t do what you said you do, I know how to punish you. That just doesn’t feel very trusty, whether I’m making dinner with my wife or otherwise, trying to think through, what we’re trying to do and how best to do it, the trusting relationship, that collaboration is such an important piece. And we often don’t think about how rules get in the way of building really meaningful trust. That’s a great point. That’s a great point.
So let’s go on. There’s a fourth piece of the Agile manifesto. Brett, hit me with that and talk me through your thinking there.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah. Responding to change over following a plan. And that, it seems similar to what we were just talking about that contract negotiation, but it’s less about the what do I want versus what do you want, and it’s more the we’ve got an agreement as to what we’re trying to create, we’re trying to make a dinner, but let’s say we decide, “You know what cilantro does sound good to both of us. We’re going with cilantro. We’re on Team Cilantro.” However, as we go into the fridge, we find out that our cilantro is all wilted and it’s not good anymore. And so we’ve got to respond to that change. We can’t just say, “All right, well, we’ve got bad cilantro, let’s put that in the tacos tonight.” We want to say, “Okay, something came up that was unexpected. How are we going to respond to that?” And so it’s a great principle that came on—from the Agile perspective coming out of the software industry, but it can be applied to every situation in life basically.
Andrew Powell: Hmm. Yeah, that’s really powerful. And it almost seems obvious in your cilantro example, if the recipe calls for cilantro and the cilantro I’ve got is bad, which is an interesting sentence for me, because all cilantro is bad, one has to say, “Okay, well, I’m not going to put bad cilantro on my tacos. I’m going to pivot.” But sometimes we get so caught up in the “Yes, but it says this and this is what we’re supposed to do, and this is what we’re supposed to do with it,” that we just want to follow the plan. I mean, forget that, in fact, responding to change is an important skill and trying to get outcomes we want personally and professionally, you know, tech or non-tech.
Elizabeth Wilson: Yes.
Andrew Powell: Go ahead, Elizabeth. You got some sense.
Elizabeth Wilson: Well, I’m going exactly what you said, that anyone from like leadership or any type of line of business, business side marketing technology, just because you’ve made a decision or choice doesn’t mean you can’t reflect and pivot. That is the sign of good leadership, recognizing when you need to pivot. And I think that is something that’s difficult for people to embrace at times, because then there is an admittance that you were heading in maybe the wrong direction.
Andrew Powell: Oh, that’s fascinating. And you know what we would say in the Agile biz, in the Agile software biz is that isn’t what it means at all, but you’re absolutely right. Like, it feels like I must’ve been heading in the wrong direction and not the reality, which is I’ve got more information now than I had before. And with a clearer frame of reference or with a broader access to information, I suddenly know things that I didn’t know before. Like, that’s such a great point, because I get so hung up sometimes on how we forget that what’s actually happening is that we’re getting smarter, instead of that—
Elizabeth Wilson: Right.
Andrew Powell: we made mistakes in the past, right? Like, that reframing is so powerful. It’s one of the powerful outcomes of Agile. No, no, no, we just—we’ve learned more.
Elizabeth Wilson: We learned something, yes. Yup.
Andrew Powell: You make better decisions now.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah. That’s one of my pet peeves that we have is we encourage failure, we want to celebrate failure, and you know, we want to fail fast, but I don’t even like the word failure itself. It’s more—it’s just discovery, it’s ongoing discovery, and if we continue to call it failure, then it’s something we have to correct. If we just say, “No, we’re just learning. This is education,” and I think it’s a lot more easy to swallow that.
Andrew Powell: Yeah, that’s a great reframing. I want to stew on that just for a second, Brett. If I am—I’m trying to make a cake in my kitchen with my wife and the cake doesn’t come out, that’s a failure, right? I learned?
Brett Fitzgerald: No, it’s not a failure. You’ve set yourself up to make future cakes forever for whoever you want to, and you bet you’re now you’re better at making cakes, hopefully, if you learn from it, if you took the time to learn from the process for sure.
Andrew Powell: Exactly. That’s definitely true. I’m just imagining this scenario where I bring my daughter a birthday cake that didn’t really come out and I say, “I know you don’t have a cake for your birthday this year, sweetie, but think of what I’ve learned.” It is that part at the end of the day that also we want cake.
Brett Fitzgerald: We are still beholding to timeline, so maybe you pivot and you go to the store, and you go get a cake from the store, but now next time you can try and make your own cake or you’ve learned I should try making the cake a week in advance and we can all have like a little week celebration and then—
Andrew Powell: Oh, how I want to live in Brett Fitzgerald’s world, where we can just make cakes so we can advance his experiments. Actually, I don’t know why I’m teasing you about that, because I totally do that.
Brett Fitzgerald: See, it’s fantastic in a big world.
Andrew Powell: Especially when I’m trying a new recipe, I make it a week in advance, and force my family to eat it so I can make sure it’s okay before I give it to someone else.
Brett Fitzgerald: That’s a great, great strategy. Yeah.
Andrew Powell: So great though not thinning strategy. It is not a good dietary responsibility strategy.
Brett Fitzgerald: You got to eat something so why not that—you can eat your education.
Andrew Powell: That’s true. That’s true. And you know, all food is good food to somebody in most cases.
Brett Fitzgerald: Even cilantro.
Elizabeth Wilson: Even cilantro.
Andrew Powell: Apparently so. Apparently people like cilantro.
So this is really fascinating to me. I’m so, so glad both of you are here talking to me about this. There are lots of sort of artifacts of the Agile process to meetings, cadences, aspects of scrum. Do you see that those apply to your thinking through using Agile in non-technical capacities, too?
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah, I think so. I think, and it’s very contextual, just like even within the software world, it’s very contextual. What’s going to be important to us to preserve for the future. How are we going to measure success? What are—how are we going to learn from this process going forward? I think all those same questions, you know, coming out of the software context apply to all of our contexts as well. If we’re making dinner, like, how do we know that this is a successful dinner? Are we measuring our success based on health and nutrition? Are we measuring it based on flavor? Like, what are our goals and what are we trying to do? If we’re just trying to eat quickly so that we can get onto the next activity, that’s a very different process we’re going to have going forwards than if we’re saying, you know, we’re trying—we’re on a diet or trying to eat, you know, very whole foods and making something from scratch, so making sure [inaudible] staying with goals and then how we’re reflecting on that is important in these areas as well.
Andrew Powell: That’s such a great point, too, because the success criteria for meals, for dinner has changed dramatically over the course of the human existence, right? Initial success criteria was nobody died. “Hey, that was okay to eat, because we all lived. Yay. Let’s eat that again.” And now we have this criteria that is, is it the right calorie count? And are we consuming enough vegetables? And was there enough vitamin D in that? And was it raised correctly, and have we sourced it appropriately? So the success criteria for dinner has evolved so much just in the last hundred years.
Brett Fitzgerald: Absolutely.
Andrew Powell: And probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about success criteria for dinner, do we, Elizabeth?
Elizabeth Wilson: I don’t know. I’m a food person, so I definitely do.
Andrew Powell: Well, what about cadence? How do you think, sort of having a cadence is a very important part of the Agile process and software development, how do you think that cadence applies to Agile in non-technical spaces?
Elizabeth Wilson: I say, it depends on what you’re working towards or what your collaborative team is focused on. So in Agile, we focus—we have daily stand ups, 15 minutes a day to check in with the team to make sure everybody’s aware of what’s going on, are there any issues to resolve. For non-technical, they may want to do a touch base everyday as well, or maybe it’s every other day or once a week, depending on, again, their situation. But they might feel more as a daily connection point, not necessarily the technical stand up of blockers and issues with the working software, but you could relate it back to that, but it’s something that—it’s important to keep everyone aware of why you’re doing them, because it can get too mundane and maybe dry, because they feel like, okay, we just talked about this yesterday. Well, think about really why you’re talking. Like, why is it important that you as a group connect? I remember a team I worked on before we made sure we met every morning before the start of the day to collaborate on what we’re working on and where we could support each other and just—and it was during the pandemic, and it was really just a great way to start the day, and have some interaction, because we were lacking that all being remote. So really zone in and why is it important to you to have that connection?
Andrew Powell: Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. Brett, do you have cadences in your use of Agile outside of technical work?
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah. I think cadences are good. To me cadences lead to consistency and that’s what we want to—that’s what we’re striving for is that consistent experience through most of the things that we’re trying to do. There’s always occasional ventures you want to be—some people want to be unplanned, more unplanned, but that consistency is good. And so, cadences for me like I’m very family oriented, and so one of my favorite cadences that I have is bedtime with our kids and we asked them what was something good about your day and what was something that was hard about your day? And so it’s a good—if they know the questions coming, so they’re prepared for—
Andrew Powell: You know, a little daily stand up with your kids. That’s adorable
Brett Fitzgerald: We do. We do. All those bedtimes but it’s really daily lie down so, but yeah, but, and it’s also a little bit of retrospection in there. It’s like, it’s all those Agile concepts kind of rolled into a couple of really meaningful questions and meaningful connection points between us as a family.
Andrew Powell: That’s great. I love that so much. That’s—what a beautiful application of Agile principles in our personal lives. That’s fantastic.
What about Kanban boards? We got family Kanban boards? We’re using Kanban in non-technical spaces outside of Agile?
Brett Fitzgerald: So we did actually. I leveraged Kanban boards when we went to virtual schooling with the pandemic. So I found myself several days a week at home trying to work while my kids were also at home trying to learn, and they had a variety of different mechanisms for that. So they had Zoom calls and they had paper, like notebooks that they had to—or workbooks they had to work through. And it was very—it was a challenge for me to try and manage their work throughout the day while I was also trying to work.
Andrew Powell: Right.
Brett Fitzgerald: And so we leveraged the Kanban system and each kid had their own board, and we wrote down at the beginning of the day, these are all the things that you have today to get done for school, and we just put all their little Post-it notes there in the to-do column, and then one at a time we said, you’re only allowed to work on one Post-it note at a time, but they love taking the note, moving it to the middle, working on one thing, finishing it up, and then moving it over to the done column. And at the end of the day, I had the ability to go through and look at the things that they had done and I can kind of spot check and like, oh, ask questions, and we had that engagement level there, too, so I got to help out with the schooling and then also let them kind of manage that through their Kanban boards.
Andrew Powell: Plus which they get this amazing sense of accomplishment, because at the end of the day, they have this giant wall full of post-it notes that say done, and they’re like, “Oh, look at what I did today. Look at that.”
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah. And another benefit is my house is covered with small little Post-it note art pieces, because that was the available paper and pens, and they just drew pictures at the end of their day, and it was fantastic.
Andrew Powell: So at the end of the day, the real winner is the 3M corporation.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah, really, that is it.
Andrew Powell: How about you, Elizabeth? Do you use Kanban in your daily life?
Elizabeth Wilson: Every day. It’s actually been great. I would show you like [inaudible] here, but I do have it on my border, on my wall to the right of me. Can you see it?
Andrew Powell: That’s your active Kanban board, and what you’re currently working, and what’s done. Nice.
Elizabeth Wilson: Exactly. It’s really helped me prioritize the right things, because before I would just—I was in a checklist mentality going right down the list of items versus really evaluating what was most important to get done and what was going to bring the most value, because as you know, not everything on the list is going to get done and you gotta find the right things. So having Kanban board allows me to more easily see that and accomplish that.
Andrew Powell: I’m so, so glad you said that, because that’s such a valuable thing for us to take away from this conversation into our daily lives. The challenge with checklists is that everything is equal and there’s no way to re-rank them or adjust them. We just—we see the checklist and we work down the checklist. And what these post-it notes give you the ability to do is say, what’s the important thing for me to tackle right now? How do I focus on that thing that needs to be done? Sort of independent of what thing got written down first. It isn’t a first in first out system. It’s the beauty of Agile that we can reevaluate that list and say, “Hey, what are our priorities right now? What questions do we need to answer first to be able to tackle some of these things?” You get to do that reprioritization, and we forget in our personal lives and our private lives and our non-technical work, that’s valuable there, too.
Elizabeth Wilson: Right.
Andrew Powell: What a great reminder from both of you. And you could build Kanban with, you know, with some Post-it notes, which are readily available to every house, dealing with the experience that is being trapped at home with your children who are learning, and, or, trying to do your job.
Great. Great. Other spots you see where you take pieces of Agile and apply them to your non-technical lives?
Elizabeth Wilson: I would say retrospectives. I know, Brett, you touched on this with bedtime, but just to hit on that again, I think that that’s a great reflection point to have, something that we’ve worked on as a team is that feedback loop. So you have those constant mini retrospectives versus big bang, and I think those may arguably even be more meaningful, because it’s something that can happen on a more regular basis and small batches so it’s not overwhelming. It’s something that depending on the feedback that you can take to heart and pivot your action right away. So I think retrospectives are key and those can be used at any point. And kind of going back again to knowing when to make change is helping you find those pivot points.
Andrew Powell: For sure. What a great point and the more often you can have those moments to be reflective, the easier it is for you to make sort of tiny little process improvements and help you feel like you’re doing more, getting more done, more in control of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Alright. I’m going to circle back around then. Let’s wrap up a little bit. Normally, at the end of the podcast, I ask people about the games they’re playing in their homes, and I do want to ask you about your, the games you’re playing, especially since so much of what you’re doing right now is being trapped in your homes, processing your way through a pandemic, but also just because it’s the theme of this episode, apparently, I also want to know what you’re cooking. So tell me what you’re making for dinner. Tell me what you’re making for dinner.
Brett Fitzgerald: Let’s see. Last night I made pork chops and steamed broccoli—well, I made with my wife—pork chops and steamed broccoli and quinoa for dinner. It’s nothing too fancy, but a good, nice rounded meal.
Andrew Powell: Nice, nice. Excellent. Quinoa, an ancient grain. That was a solid choice. Elizabeth, how about you? What are you cooking?
Elizabeth Wilson: So we had—so my husband actually created—not created—he, that would be amazing, right? He actually, slow cooked a brisket on Sunday and we—and it was amazing. I mean, I cooked for like 20 some hours, I think. It was amazing, but then we moved to brisket tacos, then we moved to brisket chili.
Andrew Powell: Oh, sure.
Elizabeth Wilson: So we’ve had a lot of brisket, but it’s been applied very differently each time, so it’s actually worked well. I’m usually—I can do leftovers for maybe one or two days after, but this has been, I’ve been able to handle.
Andrew Powell: Three or four days of brisket meal?
Elizabeth Wilson: Exactly. It’s been good.
Andrew Powell: That’s how you know it’s a good brisket.
Elizabeth Wilson: Yup.
Andrew Powell: Excellent. Excellent. What game are you playing to get yourself through the pandemic?
Elizabeth Wilson: So my youngest was really keen on learning poker, so we started a poker game the other night and just, I’ll just call the child version. It wasn’t exactly by the rules, but we were trying to get them under the mind—to understand the mindset of poker and how you play it. We got chips out and they thought that was the greatest thing ever.
Andrew Powell: Those of you who know me well know I’m a big poker fan, so I love that. You can never start too early with poker either. There’s so much to poker that gets the mind engaged as you think through possibility and chance and strategy and really, really, really just a great phenomenal game for the brain, so that makes me happy. How about you, Brett? What are you playing?
Brett Fitzgerald: Nothing so heavy. We’re playing Exploding Kittens. Our kids love that game. I don’t know if you’ve played that or not.
Andrew Powell: I’m familiar.
Brett Fitzgerald: It’s a card game where there are kittens that explode and you try to not drop those cards, and so you’re trying to kind of play against the—your opponents, and not draw the kittens that explode, basically.
Andrew Powell: Yeah. Yeah. That’s it. That company has made a few games that are in that same wacky space.
Brett Fitzgerald: Oh yes.
Andrew Powell: I have—we have one, I forget what it’s called right now, that you have—that comes with these giant crab hands, because one of the penalties is that you have to put on these giant plastic crab hands, and play the game with crab hands on. What is that game called? Made by the same company.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah. They also make Bears vs Babies, which is—
Andrew Powell: Yes.
Brett Fitzgerald: a house favorite.
Elizabeth Wilson: Oh, that sounds funny.
Brett Fitzgerald: It’s self explanatory. We won’t get into the weeds on that.
Andrew Powell: Yeah, exactly. Well, I’m so, so glad that the two of you spent this time talking with me about Agile and how we apply Agile outside of tech. You’ve got my mind reeling. I’m thinking of all these things that I should be considering and not. You’ve also got me considering maybe I should try cilantro again. I don’t know. Maybe it’s worth a second look. People seem to like it. Maybe I’m missing out. I’m not, but I’ll try them anyway and see.
Now, thank you both so, so much for your time today. Really great conversation, and I’m super excited to apply some more Agile concepts in my own life.
Elizabeth Wilson: Thanks. It was fun.
Brett Fitzgerald: Yeah. Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew Powell: Thank you.
Lizzie Williams: OST, changing how the world connects together. For more information, go to ostusa.com/podcast.