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The Agile Gymnasium

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The Agile Gymnasium

Do you even Sprint, bro? Take a look at what both working out and practicing Agile effectively have in common, other than that some developers hate doing both.

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I joined a gym recently and I found the experience to be hauntingly similar to a lot of the Agile training that we get on the job.

It often goes like this: you show up and they take you around the facility and orient you to the equipment and practices. They may even give you some very basic training. You get a chance to do an exercise once and then they slap you on the shoulder and tell you, “Go be awesome! You can record your exercise sessions on this little card over hee..."

That’s pretty much it.

As you might imagine, the success rate with that sort of system is fairly low. A lot of people never come back (although many continue to pay their monthly dues) and those who do typically have no idea what modern exercise programs look like, simply going through the motions. They climb the Stairmaster, attend the daily standup, do a few sit-ups, and maybe do a retrospective. That sort of exercise has some marginal utility – you get some small amount of benefit, but it’s a far cry from exercising a meaningful percentage of most people’s potential.

I’m mixing Agile and gym metaphors intentionally in order to make a point: we’re doing it wrong and it begins with the way we train.

Most people’s efforts stop there, but there are a few who have a more ambitious goal in mind. They may be trying to improve their tennis game with better conditioning. Or perhaps they want to be part of a fantastic team. They may be looking to build massive pectoral muscles. They might even be trying to build a phenomenal product. In other words, the purpose of their exercise is to improve their performance in some sort of real-world scenario. How can we get people to this point?

With this challenge in mind, I was listening to a discussion with some folks who owned their own gym and they had an interesting model that emphasized functional outcomes. It had three tiers to it:

  1. Gym Work: Work in the gym is not like the real world at all. It is where you go to prepare for the real world. A gym is a safe place to work to the point of failure (that’s important) and to learn.
  2. Expeditions: Expeditions are adventures in the real world that are guided by a coach. It’s real-world experience, but with someone there to guide you and help if you fail.
  3. The Real World: This is where it all comes together. Ultimately, this is where the training in the gym and the experience in the expeditions pay off in terms of improved performance.

What if we could use the same metaphor for the way we train our development teams? Training once a week with repetitions (pair programming, mob programming, etc.) and coaching (coaching circles, etc.). Combine this with someone who is coordinating the training program and measuring the performance across the entire group of trainees.

Expeditions could take the form of hackathons, where people get to try out what they have learned in the gym in the real world. You know, build a real project, deliver something over a weekend, test out your mastery of your skills in the real world – all with a coach there if you need it.

Then there is game day – the real world. You take what you have learned and join a team. You get to flex your massive coding and collaboration muscles and help build something challenging and amazing – a great model for personal and team development!

The Agile Gym is a safe place to try out new skills and push ourselves. With this format, we can maximize the chance of seeing the Agile behaviors that we have practiced being manifested in useful ways in the actual projects that we are running from day to day. Our collaboration skills should be tight, our planning impeccable, and our retrospectives revealing. If we find any weak areas, then it is back to the gym for more training.  In this model, the gym is always open. You actually practice your skills and see improvement. What an amazing way to learn about Agile!

Learn how to open your own Agile gym at my Agile 2018 session, Thursday August 9th from 3:45pm to 5pm. I look forward to seeing you there!

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Topics:
agile ,training ,agile mastery ,conditioning ,agile coaching

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