Heading south from delivering a workshop in San Francisco, I was up for a Hobie sailing adventure with family in San Diego’s Mission Bay; while having been a deckhand on a weeklong sailing excursion in Greece many years ago ( that ended up with severe back pain – but that is another story ), some calm water dinghy sailing on the East coast and open water sailing in the Med ;
Sailing a Hobie is a different story. With its two pontoons, no boom and no nonsense acceleration it requires agility in maneuvering and offers plenty of opportunities for collaboration.
Agile and leadership concepts intertwine on any boat, even more-so on a Hobie:
One boat, one skipper, and lots of collaboration
Yes, any sailboat is great for teaming up, the Hobie however, with the wide deck and accessibility of the two throttles – Jib and Main; as well as a rudder extension and wide rudder; requires constant communication for proper adjustment of the sails, heading and avoiding obstacles; The explicit scrum master makes sure collaboration occurs on all levels, while the product owner sets the destination and provides feedback on progress; the rest of the team moves from side to side to stabilize the boat.
Agile teams also spend time figuring out how to complement one another; all too often, lack of communication leads to a mentality of throwing the code over the wall to QE/testing – which tends to flip the boat.
Early morning there’s little wind, it grows stronger
As with an agile team, the start can be slow; the morning wind was light…this didn’t deter us from heading out, enjoying the slow start for getting our bearings and figuring out how to work together. Agile teams need the same focus up front, especially if they are destined for the long haul. The down time can be spent creatively for learning ‘man over board’ maneuvers; while agile teams can spend the time to figure out architecture and better understand each member’s contribution.
No wind – the goal within reach, sometimes you have to lug the Hobie
The Hobie has no keel, sailing upwind requires tacking as in any boat, without a keel, this is a challenge; our goal was upwind and while we wanted to hit home, eventually we had to let go of the goal and pivot. We ended up tugging the Hobie on the shore back to our destination; no worries – good team work and high morale made this change of plans work for all of us.
The iterative nature of agile requires a prioritized backlog that is driven by a vision set forth by leadership. Often the team needs to tack, overcoming headwinds and adjust the plan; finally the have to pivot if the original goal is not within reach.
Due to our sailing speed we had to constantly monitor jet skis zipping around us, motor boats with water skiers that seemed to be out to get us and lazily paddling SUPs and Kayakers. By keeping a vigilant lookout, we frequently changed our course. You will surely see the parallel in an Agile development environment where flexibility is key to working around obstacles and charting a new direction.
Retrospective is key
Last week I polled participants in a workshop about the value they find in their retrospectives. I wasn’t surprised to see that 15 of the 25 participants said that they were ambivalent towards their retros and 10 downright disliked it and saw no value in the retro.
This saddened me, since the single mechanism for a team to improve and become high performance is the retrospective.
Over the weekend I experienced how the retro is essential to any improvement; on Saturday morning we sailed the Hobie adequately; we improved during the afternoon; and the next day we rocked! How come? We learned how to collaborate, where the wind was, the angle of the sail and the value of collaboration. Agile teams have to do the same!
Whether you’re sailing the blue ocean of San Diego, the Caribbean, the Med or just about anywhere else, Agile concepts abound; And if you’re on an agile team, the ocean is always beckoning to learn practices of agile in natural surroundings.
Remember – Retrospective is key