"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Mango Tree

I found out that I like the “gardening” metaphor a lot (see also my latest article).

Last Friday I met a colleague during a coffee break.
We were sharing some views about what had happened during the week, when he said: ”You know, this transformation we are all undergoing is like a mango tree. Everybody seems to want mangos, but no one seems to care about how juicy they are and to know how to get juicy mangos”.

Nice way to put it: don’t you think so?

Then we started building upon this metaphor and having fun taking it to the extremes.
And I think that, what we got out of it at the end, was really good way to explain what does it take to get a team or an organization become Agile or more generally to make a change successfully happen.

So what will a good gardener do in order to get the juicy fruits she wants to harvest in her garden?

1.    Decide what fruits or vegetables you would like to collect
The first step is definitely to define what kind of garden you would like to build and what fruits or vegetables you expect to get. Then you can go and buy the corresponding seeds to plant: of course you need to plant mango trees if you want to get mangos. On the other hand you will never get mangos out of onion seeds (for instance have look at this article from Lyssa Adkins to check out what to seed to get a high performing team)

2.    Work a good piece of land
Quality of seeds is essential to get juicy fruits, but so is quality of land. So make sure to have the right environment for the plant to grow strong. Plants growing nearby can also affect the taste of fruits and vegetables: for instance if you grow lettuce close to artichokes, it will probably get bitter. A good gardener knows that, same as she knows how air pollution can also be very detrimental.

3.    Start growing small plants
So how do you think you can verify whether you bought the right seeds and you worked the land properly? Will talking about how the plant should look like help? Most probably not.
Instead a good gardener would start planting some seeds and grow some small plants. She would water the plant; she would ensure it gets enough sun (but not too much); she would fertilize it and protect it, so that it grows strong and can produce the first fruits.

4.   Taste the fruits and decide what to do
Finally she will happily pick the first fruits and taste them to check if they are sweet and juicy enough. Sometimes you will not even need to wait until the fruits are mature. It won’t be hard to see quite early if you’re getting the right fruits in the first place: you will pretty easily tell a mango and a pineapple apart. If you’re getting the right fruits with the expected quality, you can keep growing the same tree and maybe plant more of the same. Otherwise you can even remove the plant or adjust your gardening, trying a different type of fertilizer or dose the water differently. Until you get the wonderful garden you were looking for.

Does this remind you anything? Right, it looks like the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle from W.E. Deming.

BTW, gardening follows just an empirical approach, the same as Lean and Agile. 
Both gardeners and agilists don’t spend time talking about how things should be done in the best way, but they start doing things, just enough just in time, and most important they learn by actually doing, one experiment at a time.

So, what about your Agile transformation?

Are you actually planting seeds and tasting the first fruits?
Or are you just talking about how a good mango tree should look like, maybe even without having ever seen one?

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