Agile As Child’s Play

My 10 year old son volunteered me to coach his FIRST LEGO League team. FIRST is a competition for elementary and middle school kids combining science and robotics. The program is modeled after team sports, and involves months of preparation followed by an intense competition. Coaching requires keeping a team of enthusiastic 5th graders on task for designing and building robots.

After struggling to improve the effectiveness of our meetings, last week I decided to change our meeting format. We started the meeting by identifying the work that needed to be done, with one of the boys volunteering to record each task on Post-It notes on a white board. Once we had a full list of notes, we prioritized the notes in order of importance, and broke into two person teams to work the tasks. Periodically the team would identify new work, which they captured as new Post-It notes and prioritized relative to the rest of the work on the board. When a team finished their work, they put their note on the “done” board and pulled a new note. We ended the meeting with a short review of the meeting format, and agreed on changes to improve it for the next week.

I will admit this was a shameless use of agile development in organizing my team. You need only to rename our Post-It nodes to stories, our white board to a backlog, our prioritization to a planning session, our meeting to a sprint, and our review to a retrospective. But to my surprise, this actually turned out to be an effective way to organize 10 year old boys. In previous meetings, we struggled with planning, pace, and group decision-making. Post-It notes on a white board seemed to provide us with a simple and visual way to focus us on what needed to be done.

So if you ever get push back in adopting agile in a new team, make sure to tell your engineers it is so easy that a group of 5th graders can do it. ;)

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