January 23, 2017

Agile and the Art of Sailboat Maintenance

Written by Chris Soule

“Once I started looking around behind the port frames, I figured I could just….”

And so began a summer of endless sailboat projects and no sailing.  One project lead to the start of another without resolving the first.  What does this possibly have to do with software development and Agile techniques?

My old man and I own and are restoring an older sailboat.  He is also in the IT profession, and is steeped in classic waterfall development methodology.  After another frustrating day of talking past each other, he asked how I felt things could be handled differently in our boat projects.

“Stop starting and start finishing!”

It is the key mindset for Agile.  Take a small task that provides value, focus on it, and get it done.  It eliminates distraction and gives the user something usable quickly.

Applying this mindset outside of software may not be intuitive, but can pay dividends quickly.  On the boat, we cleared space on the bulkhead, grabbed a stack of post-its and planned through the next project, rewiring the boat.  The discussion started with the goal of the project.  “We’re just to tear everything out and rewire everything.” Talk about ignoring non-breaking changes!  I suggested that we focus on always having a working product – a sail-able boat – and break the project into smaller tasks that can be worked from start to finish in short, manageable pieces of time.

Approaching the project from that angle, we quickly developed a list of sub tasks, prioritized them, and put them up on our make-shift Kanban board.  This was planning was so intuitive and rewarding on its own that we did the same for other projects we want to tackle before April.

So stop starting, start finishing, and start providing value quicker for your stakeholders.

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