As a first-time visitor to New York, I was faced with limitless tourist opportunities but had a finite period of time – just 48 hours – in which to accomplish everything. With an infinite backlog of exciting experiences and countless possibilities, demand far exceeded supply. Sound familiar? This is a challenge faced by all agile teams.
I had just attended the Scaled Agile (SAFe) Summit in Denver and was making the most of my carbon footprint by facilitating some workshops with our New York team the following week. I decided to practice what I preach as an agile coach (and applied some of what I learned at the SAFe Summit) by setting myself some TI (Tourist Increment) objectives for my weekend in New York.
Setting the Objectives
First on the list was to run around Central Park. Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a compulsive marathon runner. Seven of my 251 marathons have been run in the US but unfortunately, I could not add to my marathon count on this trip. However, I would lose all street credibility if I did not do a lap of New York’s iconic park.
Objective 1: Run around Central Park
Next on my list was the number one “must see” tourist attraction in the Big Apple, the Statue of Liberty. To be honest, I wasn’t too excited about seeing Lady Libby but figured that the lifetime irritability factor of telling my wife and daughters, “I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty and it actually looks a lot smaller in real life!” every time she appeared on TV was worth the effort.
Objective 2: See the Statue of Liberty
Irrational and unreasonable stakeholders are commonplace in the business world. As a father of two girls my lot was no different. My vociferous stakeholders back home were forthright in their requirements and I received a constant barrage of “get this in America for me” demands before and during the trip. I managed to satisfy many of these expectations with a visit to an outlet mall in Colorado but the, “Don’t bother coming home unless you return with…” item that I still needed to get was a New York Yankees baseball cap for each daughter.
Objective 3: Buy my daughters a NY Yankees cap
South Africans are dispersed all over the world. I had put out the call to my former schoolmates (we have an overactive WhatsApp group) to see if any far-flung former “Class of 93s” were in town and up for a jog and / or beer. I had two offers for beer (one from Alex in Denver and the other from Rob in New York) but there were no takers for a jog. If I had less lethargic school friends, I might have been able to combine the “running” and “drinking beer” objectives together but, as it stood, the fourth objective on the list was “Have a couple of beers with an old school friend.”
Objective 4: Have a couple of beers with an old school friend
I always recommend that teams have no more than ten, but ideally five or less objectives as this provides focus. So, for the final item on my list, I went with an authentic New York experience – “Have an argument with a cab driver.”
Objective 5: Have an argument with a cab driver
Scoring Planned Value
Next up I had to allocate each of these objectives a Planned Value score out of 10. I recommend starting by picking your highest value objective, give it a 10 and then score everything else relative to the 10. As a dad who knows what’s good for him, my daughters’ headgear requirements went to the top of the list and was scored a 10 whilst maintaining my street cred as a runner came a close second with 9.
I’d managed to catch up over dinner with one school friend, Alex, in Denver which was the highlight of this part of my trip and the opportunity to catch-up with another Bosch alumni for the first time in two decades was also really important, so this scored an 8.
On my assessment, the Statue of Liberty was half as valuable as keeping the sun out of my daughters’ eyes with a Yankees cap, so I scored that a 5 and an argument with a cab driver was my lowest rated score at 2.
The High-Risk Objective
SAFe allows for “uncommitted objectives” which many people interpret as “just in case we’ve got time” (spoiler alert – you never do) or lower value objectives. Uncommitted objectives are in fact “High-Risk” objectives (and it would be less ambiguous if we just called them Risky Business). In the case where there are plenty of unknowns and ambiguity, you do not have full control over the outcome and / or are relying on external dependencies (like accommodating spouses signing permission slips), it’s best to move your objective to “uncommitted.”
By far the riskiest objective on my list was “having a couple of beers with Mr. Robert Mooney.” What could be more dangerous than two unchaperoned men in their mid-40s let loose in the city that never sleeps on a Friday night? Ideally you should only have one or two of these high-risk objectives and such was the risk to the rest of my weekend that I kept beers with Mr. Mooney as my solitary uncommitted objective*.
* Another potential high-risk objective would be, “Consume a hot dog from a street vendor.” but I figured with long distance flights in the near future, the risk to my bowels was too great.
It’s also good practice to frontload these high-risk objectives into your plan so that you can understand the impact of potential risks and unknowns as well as deal with the fallout of risks that turn into issues.
Executing the Tourist Increment
It turned out that Friday evening was the only time Rob had free so this was indeed front loaded into the plan but, as it turned out, I managed to knock out one of the objectives before cracking open my first beer in America’s largest city. On arrival at the hotel, I got my argument with a cab driver out of the way when he tried to give himself a $25 tip on a $75 fare while “helping” me navigate the credit card payment machine in his cab. One objective down, four to go.
Conveniently, Rob had picked a bar directly opposite my hotel which mitigated any risk of a first timer in New York getting lost (yes, my directional sense is so bad I can get lost in a city with a grid system). The beers were cold, the burgers were tasty and it was great to catch-up and reminisce on days gone by.
The “couple of beers” objective was met pretty quickly but there was still more value to be extracted from nocturnal beer drinking activities. We migrated from upper Manhattan to the Meatpacking District, where Rob took me to the Standard Biergarten – the venue where he’d met his future wife several years before. At some stage, Rob (who lives in neighbouring New Jersey) realized that he had missed his last train home and pivoted with an analysis enabler to see if we could find a bar that would be broadcasting the Springbok–Australia rugby test match which had a 1:30am kick-off. A suitable Irish dive bar was found and we settled into our seats with a Guinness or two to round off the evening.
A great evening was ruined by an awful Springbok performance (although the world did learn that the only thing more sensitive than a millennial’s feelings is the facial hair on an Australian scrumhalf). I got home just before the sun rose (at least I think I did – it’s difficult to see the sun amongst all those skyscrapers) and woke up later that day with the biggest hangover I’ve had in at least a decade.
The high-risk objective had been achieved but had taken its toll and my velocity was set to suffer on Saturday. My head was pounding. This is why teams should only have one or two uncommitted objectives. I was really glad that I had only one friend in New York, having beers with another friend on Saturday night would surely have killed me. However, I responded to change rather than following my original plan. The “couple of beers” objective had overrun significantly and delayed the start of my Saturday excursions. This meant the Statue of Liberty objective would need to wait until Sunday.
Once I eventually emerged from my hotel, I set about exploring the streets of New York in daylight for the first time and targeted my highest priority objective – finding Yankees caps for my daughters. As luck would have it, shops selling Yankees caps were plentiful but when you are converting hard America dollars into soft South Africa rands, you need to shop around for the best deal. Once I was satisfied that I had found the best value for my buck, the purchase was made and another objective was met.
I had planned to knock out the Central Park run on Saturday evening once the temperature was a bit cooler. However, my body was still bearing the burden of its owner acting like a teenager in a chassis that no longer accommodated excessive high-octane fuel – this resulted in having to cut my run short through the middle of the park. If I left it there, I would have partially met this objective (as I had not run completely “around” the park) but I knew I had another shot at fully meeting the objective on Sunday. You will be pleased to know that I did fully meet the objective on Sunday evening.
Aside: My wife (who proof reads all my articles) pointed out that giving your phone to a random stranger in Central Park at dusk to take a photo would probably have qualified as a “high-risk objective”. I countered that I mitigated this risk by ensuring that the photographer had substantially more gravitational pull than I do (so that I was confident that I could easily catch up to him should a foot race occur).
That left the rest of Sunday to tackle the remaining objective and see Lady Liberty. The important thing is meeting the objective, not how you do it. You could splash out thousands of dollars for a helicopter flip, hundreds of dollars on a tourist charter boat or you could just spend $2.80 on for a ticket to the end of the Red Line on the subway and catch a return trip on the Staten Island Ferry for free. In case you are wondering, I did the latter.
Statue of Liberty – tick. I now had the better part of a day to spend on other value adding activities that were not part of my core objectives. These included checking out the Bull on Wall Street, the 9-11 memorial, Grand Central Station, New York Library, a 3 story M&M megastore and listening to some whack jobs in Times Square.
The Final Score
All in all, this was a highly successful Tourist Increment. I had met all my objectives – committed and high-risk. Although I had “more than a couple of beers” with Rob on Friday night, I had to settle for 8 out of 8 as you cannot give yourself a score higher than the original planned value.
However, the good news is that meeting uncommitted objectives is like scoring bonus points, as your numerator is all value achieved but the denominator is just the committed objectives. This meant my TI Predictability score was 34 / 26 = 131% – and I’d call that a weekend well spent!
I didn’t need to add or adjust any objectives during the weekend but this sometimes happens in real life. For example, I might have decided to take in a Broadway show. This would almost definitely be a high-risk, uncommitted objective since I would need to take my chances on last minute ticket sales and my luck in the queue with other people trying to see the same show.
I decided not to try and squeeze in a show since a post Monday workshop comedy show had been arranged. At the show, I had the misfortune to be seated right at the front and caught the attention of the MC who asked what I did for a living. I tried my best to explain what I did, but the comedian gave up trying to understand and unwittingly came up with what is probably best (and most succinct) job description for an agile coach, “Sounds like bullshit but looks like it pays well!”Follow Running Mann: