“Buttoned Up” VS “Just In Time”

Recently an executive said to me that “we need someone who is buttoned-up on this project.”Brooks Brothers Shirt

It got me thinking. What is “buttoned up?”  What do we mean when we say “buttoned up?”

On complex projects there can be lots of little details.  No matter how “Agile’ you are, you cannot escape details.  The details become more distributed, I think, but they remain.  We just can’t get out of them in complex activities.The last lines of the Agile Manifesto say:

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

I left in the last line to remind that we still value the “items on the right” (“over following a plan”) but we value the item on the left more (“responding to change.”)

Through the de-emphasizing of planning, the ownership of the very details of the project itself becomes more distributed in the team.

So what does that mean? In traditional “project managed” projects, the PM is responsible for tracking all of the details.  The PM is also responsible for understanding how all those details fit together. In the case of Agile, the team shares that responsibility. The team becomes responsible for noting down their own lists of things to do.

But does the ScrumMaster suddenly avoid responsibility for all of those lists?  That I’m not sure about.  Don’t we need someone to make sure?  Because… we all… forget?

The tricky thing about details is remembering to take care of them.  Forget a few details and really disastrous consequences can result.  (Like “Oops! I forgot to put that little plug thingie in the bottom of the sailboat before we launched it in the water.” Bubble. Bubble.)

Take care of a few details “just in time” and all sorts of unintended consequences might bubble out.

My friends in the monastic system tend to be a bit “just in time” and “on the spot.”  They see what’s needed in the moment and take care of it.  They tend not to engage in a lot of what I tease them is the “‘P’ word” (“Planning.”)

The trick with clients and business owners is they don’t like all that on-the-spot and just-in-time stuff because it leads to a very big sin: surprises. Being “just in time” and “on the spot” will definitely feel to them like “not buttoned up.”

The subtle difference in sensation is possibly in whether we are “reacting” to conditions or “responding” to them.  This is exactly what the Manifesto says too, by the way.  I suspect the people who wrote it very consciously used the word “respond” over “react.”

Without any plan whatsoever it may become difficult to “respond” instead of “react.”  If you have not thought things through, how can you “respond?”

The monks would laugh and say “through mindfulness, of course!” And for us this means “awareness,” of not being distracted by some concept of a Grand Plan and being more in the mode of seeing what is happening here and now.

But I’d also suggest we might get distracted by thoughts of the here-and-now and miss the possibilities of consequences of our actions for the future.  In fact, you might find that your awareness is hampered by what you’ve decided happened in the past, what your prejudices tell you is happening right now, and how you blindly think the future will turn out.

So back to the middle way.  You’ve got to have a Vision, you’ve got to have a Road Map, and you need to plan the sprints so at least you’ve sketched out where you are heading.  Just be a little flexible about it and open to change because you could have been wrong about where you thought you were heading. As for the details, they will change, but I’m going to keep a list for myself because?  Otherwise I might forget and find myself… reacting.

A last note. I find a lot of these Agile guys call me up and say “Hi! I’m in town! Today!  Wanna have a meeting?”  Talk about “just-in-time” and being “on-the-spot.”  I sound like I’m complaining, but I kind of like it (for now). I’d think it was an anomaly with a certain few individuals but it has happened three times with three totally different people now, coming from long distances. Not just local New York Agilists.  And I suspect it may happen a fourth time, because this particular person is professionally a bit more into vision, and mentioned he’d be in town, but I am guessing not so into “a plan.” I’m betting he’ll call day-of.

Just in time!

PS on 5/11:  Yes that person did do exactly as I mentioned. 🙂

(Also – edited a grammar error above.)

One Response to ““Buttoned Up” VS “Just In Time””

  1. The Appearance of the “Last Responsible Moment” « Says:

    […] to the idea of “buttoned up,”  because of a series of seeming unrelated coincidences, I’ve become interested in […]

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