Agile is so on the cusp of mainstream adoption that you’ll soon need to explain it to children as any other widespread phenomenon. It’s inevitable.
No longer is agile a purely software development methodology reserved for techies – organizational leaders across all industries are looking to adopt Agile methodologies, or at least some form of agility in their own field.
I’ve asked project managers how to illustrate the concept of Agile in a simple engaging way that every kid can understand. Here’s my collection of answers.
If you take the purest meaning of agile, which is how I always explain it to my children, agile is about being able to move quickly and easily. — Belkis Vasquez-McCall, USA
You remember when we were at a zoo? The organization is like a big zoo, but a human one. There are many different kinds of people with different kinds of food to eat — interests. Agile is something to connect them better, to let them eat together and share their food with each other. Only then the organization can change as quick as a leopard and adapt like a chameleon. If they don’t, the lion will come and eat them. And we don’t want this, so it’s better to learn agile. — Aleš Štempihar, Slovenia
Agile Project Management is when you have a boring and complicated school task that you transform into an exciting game with your friends. All of you contribute to the game, using your skills and interests, and the task gets done. — Yulia Tchernaya, Denmark
Agile can take on many meanings as you continue along your agile journey. Complacency can set in, which is dangerous because it can truly make agile feel almost the opposite of how it should be. Instead of enabling us to move quickly and easily, sometimes we get so bogged down with processes and documentation that we seem to do more moving by standing still and talking about moving than actually getting the job done.
Like building something from LEGO and whatever you decide to make any time, you will always have all the pieces you need and always have the correct instructions. — Barry Curry, Ireland
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Son, you know when dad arrives from work, very hungry? Agile is like when we keep bringing him tapas rather than keeping him waiting for an elaborate main dish. — Marisa Silva, United Kingdom
Agile has several different flavors, but in most cases agile means you get started on something before you’re completely ready to get started. You then have a time box — say, two weeks — during which you are expected to deliver. At the end of that time box, you show what you did, and then you get input from others on whether or not to move forward. Over the next two weeks, you repeat that process and move progressively forward until you’ve achieved your goal.
Son, when grandpa and grandma married, a long time ago, times were tough and they didn’t have much money to build a big house (like Auntie Rose has). This was October and winter was coming so they had to build something very quick at first – here, have a look at this picture. Yeah, it was a very small house, just with the basic but grandpa ensured that the foundations and the roof were solid enough to survive winter. Then summer came and grandpa started adding to it — first, the living room, then he also extended the kitchen because grandma needed more space to cook. And for the next two years he was incrementally improving their house: here’s another picture, when he added the porch and the garden in the back. Grandpa did it all by himself (with the help of uncle Tom sometimes) and grandma was really happy with what they built. And that, son, is what Agile is about too! — Marisa Silva, United Kingdom
When my nearly two-year-old frames a question ever so thoughtfully by starting with “Daddy… I want to….”, however that ends, the next question is “Great. What’s the fastest and easiest way to do that?” Now you’re agile, kiddo. — Pete Adams, Australia
When you’re trying to build a prototype of the Eiffel Tower, just using your LEGO parts, that’s called the AGILE Version of Building a REAL one. — Afshin Montazami, Iran
All roads lead to Agile, but some project managers even try to explain backlog prioritizing to kids.
Backlog prioritizing is like sorting your LEGO. You put your favorite pieces into one box, so it is easy to reach them, and the other, less important ones, into the box that goes on the top shelf. A backlog is like all the homework you need to do. — Yulia Tchernaya, Denmark
But sometimes project managers have a hard time when a kid asks who’s a stakeholder. Then classmates, teachers, and principals automatically become stakeholders.
Treating and building good relationships with teachers, peers, and your principal is the same as building healthy relationships with clients or vendors, which in turn is a crucial aspect of Project Management. — Mayur Sonawane, India
Agile is what you do when the ice-cream shop you went to turned out to be closed. If you’re not agile, you go home because your plan was foiled. If you’re agile, you figure out something equally fun to do. — Allen Holub, United States
You know when mommy says NO and you go ask dad? That’s Agile. — Perry Watkins, United States
I want you to get dressed in the morning. You can do that yourself. These are the things we plan to do this week so you must pick your clothes accordingly. They need to be fit for purpose. You can’t go to school in your swimming costume, for example. Even though we have planned what we are going to wear, we have to expect that things may change. If it is raining you will need a raincoat. If it is hot, you probably won’t want a coat at all. Being able to change your mind on what you choose to wear is O.K. as long as you always wear what is fit for purpose and you always leave the house on time. You may make a mistake. You may not take a coat when you need one. We learn from mistakes so we don’t repeat them. — Kerry Burns, United Kingdom
I would describe a backlog as a washing basket. They add the clothes and when it’s time, you pull the clothes out of the basket that can go into the wash (the sprint) together. — Kerry Burns, United Kingdom
Well — we might make a mistake, so we work in small steps and ask ‘is this right?’ at each step. That way if we get something wrong, or have to change something, it’s not a disaster. — Guy Maslen, New Zealand
I would use examples from everyday life to explain these terms. I think kids (even adults!) learn more from concrete examples that they can learn from books. For example, set up a Kanban board on the fridge for household chores and work through it for a few weeks. The kids would begin by helping their parents create the Product Backlog, then volunteering to do certain chores (listed on the backlog) the next week. — Kirk Bryde, Canada
I’d say (very tongue in cheek) that a good parent has a child that says DOD before daddy. I used to scrum my little one’s bath time routines. Whiteboard and all. But had to stop when I was challenged on the DOR being my job to have bubble bath already in the water. — Garin Reyneke, South Africa
Mhm. I don’t do Jargon with the kids. My daughter composes music. Every couple of days, she plays a new or modified piece to me and asks how I like it. Sometimes, the feedback is along the lines of, “A bit too exciting”, but usually like, “I wish it was longer” or, “Very enjoyable.” When I like it, she introduces the piece to her peers. — Michael Küsters, Germany
Depending on their age, I’d probably talk about planning a weekend, to get the best out of it. A list of things they want to do. A list of things they ought to do even if they don’t want. Prioritize and rough the schedule. During the weekend I’d ask them what happens if a friend calls with a good idea. Rearrange to fit it in? What happens if a friend / the weather cancels something that was planned? Rearrange. I’d encourage them to have a look back on Sunday evening. Was it a better weekend than usual? What do we want to keep? Want do we want to do better? — Paul Oldfield, United Kingdom
Agile is when groups of people believe that we can consistently break down work into smaller, simpler chunks and build something that is valuable to other people. As we keep doing this, we always see if there are ways we can do better, and make things more valuable. Imagine you and four friends started building the LEGO Voltron set. We’d break it down by having each of you work on one of the 5 lions. As each of you completed each step, you’d check your work, or have someone else check it, to make sure it was right. After you completed all the little steps, you’d each have built a single lion, which is valuable already. However, when you all come together and combine the lions, you’ve now formed Voltron, a giant robot who defends the universe from evil! Had you started by building one lion, then the next one, and so on until all 5 were done, it would have taken you much longer to form Voltron, and the universe would not have been protected. — Marc Morell, United States
Agile is what you do at your (Montessori) school, where the motto is: “Help me do it myself.” Many people haven’t been at such schools, therefore they still have to learn how to do things themselves, and then they need a word for that. Don’t worry about that word. You are already doing it. — Niels Malotaux, Germany
It’s like a group science/ social studies project assignment at school where you brainstorm, plan, assign or take up the work deciding who will do what, build, test in case if it’s a science project, finally submit your work with the presentations. And just like your grades, cumulative of data/fact, display, presentation, and how happy everyone felt looking at your project, etc. all this is done by teamwork. Or playing candy crush with your friends having to finish a level with at least one star (which is horrible) before moving to the next level. — Aneeta Gupta, United States
What is agile? It all depends on who you ask. Let’s enrich this collection of thoughts. Leave your ideas in the comment section below and don’t forget to subscribe to be the first to get project management insights of an even higher caliber.
Illustration: Copyright © Zhenya Oliinyk