Kicking old habits to unlearn

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When you hear someone tell you their team is ‘moving to agile’ the first thing one tends to ask them is — ‘oh really? so from now you are all going to be agile isn’t it ? Cool !’

This question stems from a bit of surprise that the person asking the question either does not seem to understand what Agile is going to significantly change for the team in question, or it could be just plain sarcasm of otherwise putting it as ‘Ok, so you are agile — how’s that gonna alter anything in what you do? It’s just another jargon in the industry’.

One of the main things about a change in methodology is being able to master the art of unlearning what you already know in the industry. Specifically Agile is centered around a concept called ‘servant leadership’ which most people are hardly able to comprehend leave alone learn and adopt within their work culture.

While comparing frameworks the usual duel is between Waterfall and Agile, and in this context people coming in from waterfall have a lot of hesitation about adopting Agile easily. There is a strong reason for this feeling. It is about having to let go everything you knew about a particular way of working and learning something new. Very few people are able to do this with utmost ease. For the rest of them, there is a lot of resistance in the mind with preconceived notions about what the new move will entail — i.e., what they will have to sacrifice and what new unknowns they have to unknown.

This is pretty much like making someone who does not know driving to learn driving a car. The only data they have in their mind is that of experiences their friends and family would have shared, or the data gathered by watching videos on the internet or seeing people drive on the streets and so on. People tend to merge this understanding with the current task they have at hand (in this case to drive a vehicle themselves for the first time) and form conclusions on how the experience is going to turn out for them.

The funny part is none of the previous feedback would be the same as what the driver actually experiences when he/she does the task himself. From this point on, once you understood what it is about and your mind changes the data newly gathered, it is then able to let you do the task more freely with the new learning.

Way of working change in a project is similar to this. The more a person is able to unlearn, the more the mind is able to go through the real experience to learn again. The new learning makes the shift easier to handle with lesser anxiety on outcomes. One of they key things about moving to Agile is to let go of previous notions of understanding on previous ways of working and have a free mind to absorb the new things that come your way.

It is like letting your mind and body loose when you go into a beach full of waves to enjoy yourself. You have no idea of the outcome — whether you will have fun, or drown or get eaten by a shark or whatever else — but you still fundamentally go with the notion of having fun to see what that experience gives you in reality.

So in summary learn to unlearn first. Then learn again with a free mind.

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