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Simple rules for an Agile mindset

I was recently reading ‘Simple Rules’ by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt.

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I was recently reading ‘Simple Rules’ by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt. It triggered some thoughts on Agile mindsets, and how to deal with the complexity of projects and technology.

The theory of Simple Rules is that when there are too many processes and complex rules to memorise, then you might as well forget them all. This is directly true in Agile practices, and we have seen the impact of methodologies being implemented, rather than the principles being used to guide great decision-making.

Simple Rules are Good, and Good Rules are Simple. 

One example is losing weight. Best-selling author Michael Pollan distilled decades of research into these three simple rules:

  1. Eat Food
  2. Not Too Much
  3. Mainly Plants

These seem far too easy to be true, but it does actually work. They leave room for good decisions while letting you remember what is important. Complex solutions can overwhelm people, thereby increasing the odds that they will stop following the rules. 

This came into focus for me recently when I was trying to explain Agile practices to our newly minted Stripe Girls - some had never been involved in development before, and certainly knew nothing about how to plan and deliver a website project. 

When you have no common point of reference, I became quite inventive as to how deep I went on the ‘real’ labels for things but explained that: AGILE2
‘To eat an Elephant, you need to eat it one bite at a time’. 

This analogy quickly became gross and filled with things we would not want to eat, so we made sure it was a chocolate elephant within the first 5 minutes or so.  I guess that is my first Agile Simple Rule.

From there, I explained that not all of the elephants parts are equally important, and we could survive without certain aspects if we had to, which leads to my second Simple rule:
‘Always do the most important thing next; repeat’

You never have the perfect triangle of enough time, money and features, and you need to be sure you are getting the balance right every time. Knowing why something is important and organising things into priorities against all of the other ‘bites’ of the elephant, will mean you can apply the correct amount of focus and effort, and know that it’s for the right reasons at the right time.

‘No surprises’ 
is my third Simple Rule, and it’s one I repeat and use all of the time here at SilverStripe. It means that we keep everyone in the loop, communicate our plan and our blockers as early as possible, and no one is precious about asking for help or calling out a problem. 

My final Simple Rule is:
‘Do what you say you will do, always’
as then you will be trusted on your word, and the team can rely on you to get on with it, and you can rely on them to get on with what they have said they will do. If things go off track, see the third rule.Then, see the second rule for what to do next. 

Agile mindsets can really be this simple. And I must say I was surprised that by explaining a complex process to a group of newbies, they still got the fundamentals of Agile, and could begin with this in mind. There are probably many more I could think of, and I hope you can think of some simple rules too, as sometimes we get too caught up in our practice than in what really makes the difference. 

About the author
Diana Hennessy

Diana heads up the Channel Excellence team at SilverStripe, ensuring clients and partner agencies deliver amazing customer experiences through the web, every time, with the best tools and practices. Diana believes coaching executive level leaders in Agile practices and focusing on practical execution of Digital Transformation strategies is essential in delivering large scale transformations in both government and commercial organisations.

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  • This is a fantastic list. I'm passing around the office today. Thanks for this!

    Posted by Daniel Gary, 16/10/2015 3:47am (9 years ago)

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