Agile is like… golfing?

Well, if agile could be like cooking and a fishing trip could be agile it only made sense that another of my hobbies would be agile in some way!  This one needs a bit of background.  Some of you know that on December 9, 2008 I had a total hip replacement done on my left hip.  It had been bothering me for many years and finally was to the point where it was severely impacting my quality of life.  I am hugely grateful to Dr. Michael Dayton and the University of Colorado Hospital Orthopaedics Department because my surgery was a total success.  I am now able to do many things without pain which would have caused extreme pain or even been impossible prior to the surgery.  One of my favorite activities is golf and I am now able to do it without pain.  Not being in pain led to an interesting discovery… 

Because I was no longer in pain while swinging a golf club I recently decided to go to the driving range to hit a bucket of balls.  I like to imagine playing a round of golf when I hit balls on the range because to me it seems less boring than pounding out shot after shot with the same club.  While doing this I was struck by the relationships between an agile process and a round of golf:

Agile Golf
Release date Time to play the round
Product vision Goal for final score
Prioritized backlog Important swing points to remember
Release planning Visualizing round ahead of time
Iteration 0 Paying to play and warming up
Iteration Each hole
Iteration planning Deciding how to play a particular hole
Daily stand-up Deciding how to play each shot
Daily execution of work Playing each shot
Iteration demo Score for the hole
Iteration Retrospective Walking off the green and evaluating current state of play
Release Finishing all 18 holes
Release retrospective The 19th hole of course!

OK, so it’s a little bit of a stretch, but it makes sense to me.  How does this help struggling teams?  It helps by showing them agile is all around us.  We just have to put on our “agile sunglasses” to see it.  Agile is common sense of the uncommon variety.  For me, seeing agile everywhere makes it clear agile isn’t just a fad, but something bigger.  Sometimes teams just need to know it is ok to dip a toe into the water and try it (really, it is!).  The first step is the hardest, but imagine doing some other things without being agile.  Can you drive a car to someplace unfamiliar without a plan and making constant corrections while actually driving?  Can you walk 50 steps without making corrections along the way?  If you have a plan for a day can you execute it without making corrections along the way?  To me all of these things show parts of an agile process adapted to the real world.  Using the same process in the way it was defined should make it even more powerful.

Until next time I’ll be Making Agile a Reality™ by keeping my agile sunglasses on and helping people see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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  1. Golf does fit nicely with the agile process, especially since you cannot win only play. You could probably make similar analogies with other individual sports like bowling or tennis that would be comparable. Likewise, thinking of the coaches of team sports, you could probably find similarities there as well.

    The similarity lies in the fact that, in both agile and sports (and cooking and fishing), the focus is on success and getting the most out of your involvement (increased ownership). As you play/work, you learn and adjust your efforts and expectations base on what you know (iterative planning).

    The biggest difference I find is how frustrated and disappointed I feel after a round of golf compared to the satisfaction that comes with the completion of a release. Maybe agile thinking will improve my golf game 🙂

  2. Golf does fit nicely with the agile process, especially since you cannot win only play. You could probably make similar analogies with other individual sports like bowling or tennis that would be comparable. Likewise, thinking of the coaches of team sports, you could probably find similarities there as well.

    The similarity lies in the fact that, in both agile and sports (and cooking and fishing), the focus is on success and getting the most out of your involvement (increased ownership). As you play/work, you learn and adjust your efforts and expectations base on what you know (iterative planning).

    The biggest difference I find is how frustrated and disappointed I feel after a round of golf compared to the satisfaction that comes with the completion of a release. Maybe agile thinking will improve my golf game 🙂

  3. I can really relate to this and i think your on to something here:

    Imagine getting your favourite 8 iron out the bag – slamming the ball 178 yards straight onto the middle of the green – 4 feet away from the Hole (I wish 🙂 ) – you puff out your chest and go follow the ball – Knowing you have a good putter in the bag to finish the job.

    All is good with the world.

    You get alittle closer to the ball and things seemed to have moved – when you tee’d off it was a straight forward 182 yard par 3, but now you look up, someone hands you the new scorecard and its now a mamouth 600yd Par 5.

    How annouying is that

    This is the Golfing equivelant to Mid Iteration Story/Acceptance changes 🙂

    • That is VERY funny! I guess that could happen, but I always remind teams that they control the iteration. Once it is set, any changes need to have their approval (at least the way I train teams). This helps keep the “hole” from completely changing as you describe. You may no longer be 4 feet from the hole, but you shouldn’t be hundreds of yards away either.

      But I do like the visual of what could happen if a team and a Product Owner aren’t careful about handling mid-iteration changes. Thanks!

  4. Not to micromanage the game but for a long time, I’ve considered EVERY SHOT to have a mini-project lifecycle, albeit a bit more like a traditional project.
    The lie, distance, conditions, etc. dictate the shot choice – Requirements/Design
    Pre-shot routine, swing, hit – Implementation
    Evaluating the result, spin, bounce, break on the green – Testing
    Extreme joy or inconsolable sorrow based on outcome – Post-Mortem Review

    Hit ’em straight!

Bob Hartman

Known as Agile Bob, brings over 30 years of experience and broad industry knowledge cultivated by serving in almost every role in the software industry including developer, tester, documentation writer, trainer, product manager, project manager, business analyst, senior software engineer, development manager and executive. Over the past 15 years Bob has grown from being an early adopter of Agile to his current status as a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST) and Certified Enterprise Coach℠ (CEC) and an expert in training, coaching and mentoring across all areas of Agile development. Bob is a popular speaker, having spoken at numerous major conferences, seminars, workshops and user group meetings where his engaging style, holistic view of development and personal anecdotes are always well received by attendees.

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