Marty, director of engineering at a small early-stage startup, was talking with River, vice president of engineering at a large corporation. They had met at a leadership retreat and discovered that, despite the disparity in the size of their respective engineering teams, they were dealing with many of the same issues. They had been meeting for mobile chats ever since, wandering their way through local parks and gardens.
“These concepts of sustaining movement, maintaining alignment, and managing impact are starting to feel second nature,” Marty told River. “I’m even talking with my partner about them. We’re finding them a useful way to negotiate our life together.”
“How cool,” River exclaimed. “I’m finding the same. And, my daughter showed me a whole new way to utilize them.”
1) Move at a different speed
“We were making cookies,” River explained. “I was in a bit of a rush, knowing how much I wanted to get done that day. My daughter, inevitably, was taking her sweet time rolling each ball of dough into ‘just the right shape, Mommy.’ I chastised her, asking her if she couldn’t move along a little faster. She admonished me with, ‘You’re going too fast. Cookies have to be made slowly.’”
“How did you respond?”
“Her words took a few moments to sink in. Then, I sat down and took her hands in mine. ‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘I’m in a hurry because I know how many things I need to get done today.’ She looked at me, sighed in exasperation, and said, ‘Mommy, the only thing you need to get done today is to have fun.’”
“So wise, your daughter.”
“Too wise, I think somedays.”
“What happened next?”
“While we continued making cookies—slowly—we went over our to-do list for the weekend. First, we rated each one on fun and urgency scales. Then, after the first batch of cookies was in the oven and the next batch was prepped and ready to go in, we combined the fun and urgency scales to give us a prioritized list.”
“So, you had a sprint planning meeting with your daughter?” Marty asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I did,” River agreed. “And we had standups throughout the weekend, updating our stories. And we did, in fact, finish up the weekend with a retrospective,” she finished with a grin.
2) Move to a different scale
“What does training your daughter in the ways of agile have to do with sustaining movement, maintaining alignment, and managing impact?”
“At the retreat, you and I and everyone else talked about things at a macro level. How do we make our office environment easeful? How do we replenish our resources over the course of the day and week? What rhythm ideally regulates our lives?”
Marty nodded agreement.
“My daughter’s admonishment that cookies need to be made slowly made me realize that these also scale down all the way to a micro level. For example, I listen to different music when reviewing proposals from my team than when commenting on those proposals.”
“The macro detail of music helping you focus stays constant, while the micro detail of which type of music changes,” Marty summarized.
“So, you organized the micro timescale of your weekend around the sprint cycle of planning, standups, and retrospective. Does that mean you also organize your macro timescales around that cycle?”
“I do. I even use that cycle for each individual task. I start with a bit of planning. Then, as I work on the task, I periodically pause and check in on how it’s going. And, once I complete it, I do a tiny retro.”
“Do you do that with your daughter as well?”
“I do! And, she loves it. No more fights about what ‘clean your room’ means.” River paused a beat, then said, “Well, a lot fewer, anyway.”
“I imagine that particular metric never drops to zero,” Marty said wryly.
3) Move to a different scope
“So, we’ve discussed how your regulating rhythm scales from the macro down to the micro,” Marty continued. “I can imagine ways the other aspects of sustaining movement, our easeful environments and replenishing resources, might also scale across that spectrum. Are you finding that your ways to maintain alignment and manage impact also scale?”
“I am,” River confirmed. “For example, when I do that mini-planning with my daughter before she starts a task, we define ‘done.’ We discuss her signals that she may be getting off track. We brainstorm ways to get back on track when she gets off. All for that specific task.”
“That sounds like every little task will take much longer,” Marty mused.
“They actually go faster,” River corrected. “First, because we start with a clear vision. Sometimes, I just need my daughter to clear some floor space. In that case, shoving everything under her bed is good enough. Other times, I want everything put away in an orderly fashion.”
“’Done’ changes from situation to situation,” Marty said, nodding.
“Yes. Second, because we’re talking about a single task, the scope of ‘done’ is tiny. We don’t have to define clean for the whole house, just for her room, this specific time.”
“Got it. Thanks for the clarification.”
4) Experiment with each space along each spectrum
“I always come away from our chats with a new experiment to perform,” Marty said. “Today is no exception. This idea that my methods for sustaining movement, maintaining alignment, and managing impact scale from the macro level I’ve focused on all the way down to the most micro level of each particular thing I’m doing each particular moment is sparking off all sorts of ideas.”
“Same. I’m going to talk with my team about this. We have these global definitions of ‘done’ and whatever, yet we expect teams to do what’s right for them. That has been causing a lot of friction lately. This concept of scaling from macro to micro might be just the transforming idea I need to rationalize those two seemingly conflicting goals.”
“I predict many interesting conversations are on their way.”
“That’s one of the indicators with which I measure my alignment,” River noted. “If I haven’t had at least one interesting conversation each day, I am definitely out of alignment.”
“Ooooh, I want to hear more. Next time?”
“Next time,” River agreed.