Can Agile help you tie knots?

square-lashingIt turns out that the stereotype about scouts and knots is true! The other weekend, my little guy had a scout event where teams of individuals construct a raft and then race it down the Yarra River. The materials involved were poles, plastic oil barrels (for floatation) and of course rope, for tying the stuff together. To provide some context here, the only thing between drowning in the Yarra River and getting to the finish line, was the competency of tying the knots that held the raft together.

My kid’s team quickly settled on the knot required as being the square lashing. For those of you who were once scouts, you may know that this is not a straightforward knot. For those of you who do not know this, you can consult the diagram in this blog post. As it turns out, despite all four team members being scouts, only two knew how to tie the knot!

The scouts had a time limit on construction of the raft, and as a self-managing team, it was up to them as to how they managed that time. It made sense to me that perhaps the scouts who knew how to tie the knot, might teach the two who didn’t. After all, a bit of time spent teaching others, could ultimately save time.

However, and this is where things began to unravel, this self-managing team didn’t take that approach. Instead they struggled to complete the 12 square lashings and didn’t. Two team members were frazzled and two were unoccupied.

It was clear to me, not just because it had been raining and the river was running higher and faster than usual, but because the raft was only half-finished, that it was destined for disaster. It sure was going to be amusing though to see what happened!

My son described the raft race as terrifying and fantastic. Unfortunately, without the full requisite of knots, the raft’s path to destruction in the river rapids was swift. Thankfully it survived long enough to get the four passengers safely to the finish line in time to win the wooden spoon.

In Agile, the concept of “pairing” reminds us that it is not only OK, but terrific for people to pair up and teach each other new things. It might take an hour, or a day, or even an hour and then another few hours later on. When you see two people sitting next to each other to jointly complete a task, it’s pairing. Sure, two people spend time doing it, but ultimately it develops the skill base in a team and means that the raft won’t break apart before it crosses the finish line. Also, next time a raft needs to be built, there’s four people who know how to tie the knot.

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