The Agile Goodbye


This is an unusual post because I have been writing a series of posts introducing the concepts agile project management as part of a long-term project to create a series of notes for an agile study group for those studying for the PMI-ACP (Agile Certified Practitioner) exam.     However, an event occurred this week which has had me take a break from the world of agile project management–or so I thought at first.

1. The Funeral and the Project Plan

This week my father passed away on Sunday morning, and I have been, together with my brothers and sister, preparing for my father’s funeral this Saturday.    Nevertheless, something occurred during the preparations which has to do with agile project management, and I decided to share this experience which has been deeply personal and yet has been shaped by my professional experience with project management.

When I got the call from my sister on Sunday that my father passed away in the hospital, it was a shock to a certain extent, because he had been in the hospital with a gallbladder attack, and was preparing to have surgery the following day.    So we knew he was ill, but it was still a shock that he went so quickly before he even had a chance to have the surgery.    I went to the hospital right away and brought my notebook which serves as my own personal planning journal.    My sister said she and my brother were on their way to the hospital as well.    She called my older brother who lives in California, who started making arrangements to fly here to Chicago.

I got to the hospital first, and had a chance to say my own goodbye to my father who was lying there in the hospital bed looking as peaceful as if he was just taking a nap.    Since I was just waiting for my sister and brother to get there, my project management instincts kicked in and I got out my journal and wrote “The Goodbye Project” and started making entries for the various categories of activities that would have be done in order to get ready for the eventual funeral.

2.  Turning the Plan into an Agile Plan

When my sister and brother arrived, I put the journal away and we said our goodbyes to my father, comforted each other, and started turning to the various practicalities we needed to face, such as calling the funeral home.    Then we agreed to meet over at my Dad’s house.   When we arrived there, as my sister started making coffee, I got out my planning journal.   I thought when she saw it, I was afraid she might get angry and say something like “how could you be so left-brained at a time like this?”   But instead, she said, “oh, I’m so glad you’re doing this.   I was thinking about making a plan on the way back from the hospital, but I see you’ve already started.    Do you mind if I write on your plan?”    I said, ‘no, of course not,” and passed the journal to her.

She started filling in the plan, and then my brother contributed to it as well.    We formed it as a team, and in the next few days, we followed it as a team.    Sometimes we changed our project plan based on discussions with various relatives and friends of my father, like when we made the decision to split the funeral into two days based on various people’s schedules.   Some people would not be able to make it on Friday, and some people would not be able to make it on Saturday, but by having it on both days, we were able to accommodate everyone.

3. The Agile Funeral

Suddenly today while I was waking up from a nap and getting ready to do a post on my blog about agile project management, it occurred to me that I had been unwittingly planning an “agile funeral”, because my original idea of creating a plan for the funeral had taken on several aspects of agile project management:

  • The traditional project plan, where I would have been the project manager, and my siblings would have been the team members, had been replaced by an agile plan, where my brother, sister and I were team members who were all contributing to it.
  • The various team members doubled as SMEs in the areas of their expertise–my sister was in charge of cooking and preparing baked goods for the funeral, my brother (the artist in the family) was in charge of getting the pictures gathered and putting them on a flash drive we would take to show on a video monitor at the funeral, and I was in charge of communications, such as writing the obituary notice for the newspaper and the funeral home.    We all were equally adept at cleaning, so we split that chore between the three of us.
  • As in most agile projects, our biggest constraint was not scope, but time–we needed to get the funeral arranged by the weekend because we are doing it for the convenience of the “stakeholders”, in the case the family and friends that knew my father the best.    Any clean-up project we thought of such as painting the porch on my father’s house that would take longer than a week was not put in the project plan.
  • We communicated with the “stakeholders” (our relatives and Dad’s friends and acquaintances) on a regular basis and had to adapt our plan to their wishes, such as the fact that some couldn’t make it on one day and some couldn’t make it on the other, which caused us to compromise by doing the funeral on both days.
  • Since the project was a week long, each day of this week has been zn increment referred to as a “sprint” (although some days it felt more like a marathon than a sprint).   Every morning after breakfast and coffee, we would gather around the kitchen table and look at our “burndown chart” from our plan and see what had been accomplished the previous day, what needed to be carried over from the previous day to the current day, as well as what fresh items needed to be accomplished on the current day.
  • Agile projects try to conform to the normal rhythms of life such as a 8-hour work day.   Likewise, we planned out how much could get done each day in about 8 hours.   That would allow us to take one day at a time, focus on only that day and not get overwhelmed by how much there was to do by the time of the funeral.    This also allowed us to keep the evenings free so that after each day’s hard work, we could recover.by watching some comedy movie or television program to keep our spirits up, as well as having time to call up relatives and acquaintances of my father.

4. Agile is more than a methodology

Today is the day of the funeral, and I must say that my knowledge of project management, and agile in particular, really helped to take what was probably one of the most difficult projects I have undertaken in my life, planning for my own father’s funeral, and not only made it something manageable, but turned it into a way to bring my family closer together by working together to make the project happen.    I’m sure if my father could have seen us working together as a team this week, he would have been proud of us.    One of my mother’s favorite sayings was, “work is love made visible,” and our love for our father has been invested in the energy we have spent making preparations for today’s event.

In the end, if we are able to allow those who knew him to say their goodbyes to him, and to take home some positive memories along with the tears, the project will have been a success.    We owe him no less–it was a privilege of a lifetime to be one of his children.    It is yet another privilege of a lifetime to be one of a group of siblings that pull together in time of need and work together as a team, because teamwork, my dear readers, is ultimately the secret as to why agile works.    It’s not just a methodology–I can say from the bottom of my heart that for me it is now a way of life.

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