Agile – Adopting to Change vs Following a Plan – a football analogy

Agile – Adopting to Change vs Following a Plan – a football analogy

As I sat watching Sunday Football, and thinking of my upcoming blog… I became aware of the similarities between football and Agile! Consider this, each time my football team has the ball, they have an end goal; to get points on the board. They also have intermediary goals, to deliver 1st downs in order to retain the ball. They studied the opposition, and made some plans for the game. Then at the beginning of each play, they make a plan in the huddle, and execute. At half-time they have a retrospective.

So if you are into football, ask yourself; what would happen if they had to plan the entire game in advance? What would happen if they couldn’t respond to change within game or even the down? The ability of each player to take responsibility for their work, seeing the big picture, and responding to change as needed keeps the game going. It also parallels what we do when working in Scrum Teams.

Our big picture is provided by the Product Owner. Our end goal to deliver on the big picture incrementally by accomplishing 1st downs. Sprint Planning allows us to see where we are and identify our plan for the sprint (football’s quarter). Our Daily Scrum allows us to plan the play for a day just like in a football huddle. Based on outcomes, we adapt to change continuing to focus on the end goal.

It takes the entire team to play the game. Each player must be accountable for what they are doing. Otherwise the quarterback gets sacked, the ball is fumbled, and overall play is stymied. There is total visibility. No one can hide if they don’t deliver. Sound familiar. It should. If it doesn’t, than your team may not be transparent about its work.

The Product Owner is like the Quarterback, supplying the team with user stories for the sprint. The Scrum Master is like the Coach, supplying support from the sidelines.

So when it comes to adapting to change vs following a plan, think about that football team you watch on Sunday night.  First, embrace the fact that being Agile allows us to adapt to change and that adaption is what helps us win the game. Second, make sure you make the most out of the huddle, or Daily Scrum, by truly planning how to move the ball, or story, down the field.  Finally, hold the team accountable while you drive to the end goal.  No football team ever wins on the basis of one player alone.

As Agile Coaches, we help teams grow and mature. But there’s no how-to manual that tells us how to do that.  So how do we accomplish it?

Today I’ll talk about a model I find useful when working with teams. The “Johari Window” model was developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in the 1950’s from their work with groups.  “Johari” comes from a mash-up of “Joe” and “Harry.

What is it?
The Johari Window is a simple model, a tool that can help build trust and improve interpersonal relationships within a group by increasing self-awareness and mutual understanding, and improving communications.

Johari’s Window has 4 quadrants:

The public self or open persona.

This quadrant represents what you know about yourself that others also know about you (includes behavior, knowledge, skills, attitudes, strengths, weaknesses, etc).  This is the self we share with others.

The blind self or naïve persona.

The blind area represents what is known by others, but you are unaware or don’t know about.  We can’t access the positive things in this area because we don’t know about them, and negative aspects that we don’t know about make us vulnerable.

The private self or secret persona.

This quadrant presents what you know about yourself, but keep hidden from others.  These are the things that make us uncomfortable or that we’re not confident in.

The undiscovered self or mysterious persona.

The unknown area represents what is unknown by you and unknown by others.  This dark area is where our deepest fears and buried talents reside.

The model is based on two fundamental concepts:

  • Trust and growth can result from being open
  • Awareness and self-development can result from asking for feedback

 How is it used?
Johari’s Window can be used from an individual, team, work group, or project perspective.  The ultimate goal is to increase the “open” quadrant….expanding the public self, and reducing the hidden, blind, and unknown areas.

Opening this window is accomplished by:
Pic 2

  • Telling others about yourself…..willingly sharing your thoughts and intentions. The more people know about us – how we think, what’s important to us, how we make decisions – the more cooperatively, collaboratively, and effectively we work together.  The sharing here refers to things that are appropriate for the environment, e.g., sharing intimate details isn’t appropriate at work, and would not have a positive effect on relationships in this setting.
  • Asking others for honest feedback….on how they experience you and what impact your behavior etc has on them. Be open to receiving feedback, as it’s a way for us to learn what others see but we don’t, highlighting opportunities for growth.

It’s important to acknowledge here that the word feedback has a negative connotation in American culture.  That’s because feedback is usually couched as “friendly advice” about what we’re doing wrong, or delivered in a context of judgement and intimidation, e.g., “you’re wrong/broken, and you need to fix this or else”.  So we fear it.

But feedback is really about the person giving it, not about the person receiving it.  Most of us have good intentions; we do what we think is right, for the right reasons, and are unaware that others might receive it differently than we intended.  Feedback isn’t about us being wrong or broken, but rather a way for others to tell us our impact on them.  It is a gift….ours to do with what we want.

  • Introspecting regularly….regularly looking inside, honestly assessing what we want, how we behave, what we have to offer, what we need to develop, and increasing our self-awareness.
  • Challenging ourselves….take more risks, expand boundaries, solve bigger problems, work with different people, or execute on a bigger stage. This will tap into and reveal our deepest fears and help us discover unknown strengths.

So what do I do next?
Whether you’re using the Johari Window model for as an individual or for a team, the key is the more developed the “open” area is, the more comfortable, happy, successful, and collaborative we’re likely to be.

Stay tuned for my next installment where I’ll talk about crafting a team retrospective using concepts around the Johari Window.

Send me your comments…..I’d love to hear your questions, experiences, and ideas for helping teams grow.

Art Chantker, President of Potomac Forum, LTD and CC Pace cordially invite you to our next exciting Agile in Government Workshop V, May 20 at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC.  Workshop V will have something for everyone, from new adopters just getting started with Agile in their agencies, to seasoned Agile practitioner scouring the landscape for new horizons in Agile disciplines and trends in the Federal government that they can put to practical use now.

Art has led the Potomac Forum in training thousands of government and industry professionals throughout the country on a wide variety of information technology, acquisition, financial, and management subjects of importance to our government.  Over the years, Art has invited CC Pace back again and again to present on the full spectrum of topics around Agile software development and Agile project management along with officials from the Department of Homeland Security, USDA, the VA, Department of Education, NGA, GSA and many other Federal agencies.

On May 20th we will be conducting our next Agile workshop at the Willard Hotel for the 2015 Potomac Forum series.  The focus will be on Agile and Lean best practices, including Scrum, Kanban and scaling Agile for larger projects and programs.  In addition to the seasoned Agile trainers from CC Pace, our confirmed government speakers include Karen Ritchey, Assistant Director Applied Research and Methods
U.S. Government Accountability Office; Bill Pratt, Office of the CIO, Policy & Planning-SELC/Agile IT, Department of Homeland Security; and our keynote speaker Greg Godbout, CTO of EPA, and co-founder and former Executive Director of 18F, the government’s new center for inter-agency Agile services.

There is a tentative agenda already posted on the Potomac Forum website, pending some agenda changes once other invited officials are confirmed.  If your agency is starting down the path of agility, or you want to bring your adoption efforts up to the next level you should attend this workshop.  We look forward to seeing you on the 20th.


In my last post, I talked about what a “Get It Done” (GID) pattern looks like in organizations.  Today I’ll talk about another cultural pattern.


Many of us are familiar with “Just Do It” as a Nike ad campaign, which began in 1988…egad! I can’t believe that was over 25 years ago!

Although Nike (which, go figure, is the name of the Greek Goddess of Victory) got inspiration for their famous slogan from the final words of a serial killer (“Let’s Do It”), their ads resonated positively with the public because the simple words and imagery reflect our uniquely American values and spirit.

Be strong. Be bold. Be first. Be victorious. Do something. Do anything. Start now.

That spirit is at the heart of a JDI culture, a culture that focuses on and rewards starting.  A culture that plays to our passion, our confidence (some would say arrogance), our desire to win, and our innate belief that we will prevail under any circumstances.  Success and the American Dream are ours if we take action, work hard enough, and persevere.  This is where we come from, it’s in our national DNA.

So what’s wrong with that, you say?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with it, exactly.  It’s as American as baseball, mom, and apple pie.  But is it a good fit for Agile?

I’ve worked in many JDI environments; it was exciting, I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot.  Most first-responder and mission-critical jobs depend on people just-doing-it.  It requires the ability to adapt and make quick decisions while not having all the facts.  It’s fun, challenging, risky, and satisfying to plunge right in and get your hands dirty.  What’s not to like?

But it can also be stressful.  There’s an expectation to try harder, to do more, even to be perfect.  There’s often an element of competition, and a feeling that if we stop to rest, we’ll fall behind.  Adrenaline pumps through our body in response to the challenge of walking an ever finer edge, ready to spring into action, climb that next mountain, turn around that troubled project, or conquer the world.  We have the freedom to move fast, but not the freedom to fail.  Always, there’s the awareness that if we’re not up to the challenge, we’ll be seen as weak.  And as President Lyndon Johnson once said, “The American people will forgive you anything except being weak.”  While some of us can thrive in this kind of environment forever, for most of us it’s not sustainable for the long haul.  We burn out, or wear out, over time.

Lest I be misunderstood….starting things IS important.  As is passion, confidence, and the ability to adapt quickly and act in the face of uncertainty, to not be paralyzed by indecision.   These characteristics of a JDI culture are also essential to Agile delivery.

It’s just that in a JDI culture, the scale tips toward the un-Agile characteristics.  Like runaway WIP, because it’s more exciting to start the next new thing than it is to finish what’s already in progress.  Like fatigue, because the pace is not sustainable. Like an obsession with success, because there’s a low tolerance for failure. And like an emphasis on “I can do” over “we can do”.

An Agile change initiative would certainly start with a bang in such an environment; and would likely lose momentum before finishing.  An appropriate balance is needed to create change, respond to change, and sustain change.  And a JDI environment is out of balance.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it…..what do you think?