I live in Southern Arizona... hot, desert, prickly everything... right? Well, mostly. There are a couple of months of the year, called the Monsoons, when it rains a lot. The desert is actually a very fertile place, as is evident by my back yard. I literally have weeds that are 11 feet high--no exaggeration. Prickly everything still everywhere, just now it's green.
I'm a busy guy, with 4 kids, all in sports. I don't have a lot of time to spend on the yard. However, today I happened to have only 2 mid day volleyball games and a Friday Night Football game. So, in the drizzling rain, I decided to attack the jungle with gusto.
My team was made up of my 10 year old daughter, her 9 year old cousin, my 13 year old son and myself. I didn't totally geek out on them and create a backlog, estimating the effort for each stick note on the wall, but as I pulled out tumble weeds, gourd vines and mini mesquite trees, my mind was formulating this blog post. Though my written word is never as good as it sounds in my head, here is my attempt to share with you the Parable of the Jungle Yard...
A man had a vision of what his yard should look like. He gathered together his children and painted the picture for them:
"We are going to have a beautiful yard once again!" the man exclaimed.
"We will fix the gates so they hang straight. We will trim up the trees, pull the weeds and level the ground. Once we reclaim the yard from the overgrown jungle, we will finally be able to plant grass and have a place to play and enjoy."
As the children stared out at the trees that Dad called weeds, they couldn't see it... the vision he tried to paint was just too far fetched! How could they possibly get there from here?
In spite of their doubts, they grabbed gloves and went to work. The daughter started hacking away at the thorn encrusted mesquite trees that had grown from nothing to taller than the eaves in such a short time. She trimmed a little here, and she trimmed a little there.
"Dad? Can you come here please and see what I've done?" she called to the man.
The man came and inspected her work. Not bad for a 10 year old.
"Go ahead and cut it back further. Let me show you." He took the pruners and cut one of the bigger limbs about shoulder height to his daughter.
"That far?" she asked.
"Yes, you are doing a good job. Nice first round. This time you can take even more off. No matter what you do, you can't kill those things!" So, she went back to work.
The man then noticed how his son was doing.
"Good job!" The boy was working hard, but leaving quite a lot of smaller weeds as he attacked the big ones.
"hmm... should I tell him to make sure he gets all the little ones to?" the man thought. "Nah. The first priority is to get the big ones down, then we can move to the smaller ones... baby steps!"
"Your doing it right. Keep on crankin'." He told the boy.
Let's stop there... what are some of the lessons we could learn from this parable, and apply to the business world we live in? Clearly, in this situation, Dad is the Product Owner. It was up to him to create the vision for his children, the team. Also, what about the big weeds vs the small ones? It was up to the Product Owner to define the priorities... getting the big weeds out was more important to the customer (Mom) than getting everything perfect. Let's pull that thread a little... how could that be applied to a technology industry? Maybe, a low fidelity simulation with only a little functionality would be better to deliver, in a short time, to the customer rather than never getting anything done to deliver perfection. Deliver working product in smaller chunks is good.
So, what can we compare the conversation about how much to trim off the trees? This was kind of like a mini review. The team was able to demonstrate to the Product Owner their working proto type. Because the short amount of time that the daughter was working on the tree, it was easy to course correct and provide clarity to her to help align with the vision.
Ok, so call me crazy, but that is where my mind was as I got soaked...
Oh, one more thing. How could we have prevented the jungle in the first place? Obviously, if I had been pulling weeds a little at a time, as they sprung up, my nice green grass yard would have stayed a nice green grass yard. But how does that translate into the business we do? From my Software/Hardware integration background, I compare this to continuous integration. Pulling the little testing weeds out instead of waiting for the epic multi-month Formal Qualification Testing that we all have seen. If we stay on top of our testing, and constant integration, there will never be a need for the big bang at the end of a release. We'll already have the beautiful green grass release.
What can you learn from the Parable of the Jungle Yard?