I watched “The Hobbit” the other day with my family. I was in an agile frame of mind, and found many examples of how the travelers used agile practices in their journey. (If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, be warned – I give away some of the story.) For example, as the dwarves clean up Bilbo’s kitchen, I could see that everyone understood their specific task, and they knew their goal so clearly that they could use irony to express it in song - “Chip the glasses and crack the plates! | Blunt the knives and bend the forks! | That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!”
Of course, the dinner scene is only a small part of the movie, and the overarching vision of the journey is certainly not to keep Bilbo’s house clean – that’s just one small goal along the way. The dwarves have a vision of returning home.
Bilbo, unfortunately, isn’t fully aware of the group’s vision when he heads out without his pocket handkerchief. Yes, he’s read the contract, he has a basic understanding of his duties, and he’s even heard the stories and the songs of the dwarves, but he doesn’t initially understand the WHY. He finally gets it through a conversation with Fili, in the middle of the night. Bilbo has decided that he wants to return to his own home and is preparing to leave. Then Fili explains why returning to the Lonely Mountain is important – it is the dwarves’ home. The vision finally sinks in for Bilbo. Now the hobbit also understands why it’s so important to get to the Lonely Mountain. Now he gets why this journey is so important to them. Now he becomes fully engaged in the journey, even risking his life to protect Thorin.
Even though he signed the contract, the REAL reason for the journey wasn’t clear to Bilbo until more than half-way through the movie. Bilbo needed to be told many times, and through many avenues, before the vision finally stuck – before it became reality to him. My hunch is he’ll have to be reminded again before the trilogy of movies is over.
As agilists, we must clearly and frequently express the project vision (desired state) and goals (steps to get there) to every member of the team. We may know the vision, but how well does the team understand? How well does the Product Owner understand? Is it posted somewhere? Is it discussed frequently in planning meetings, demos and retros? Oh, and do YOU really understand the vision, and the steps to get there?
My challenge to you is two-fold, depending on where your team is in relation to a project vision. If the vision isn’t identified, spend some time at the next planning meeting, with the product owner, to identify an easy-to-remember vision (for example, “Provide the customer with an easy-to-use tool to search for and buy books”). Once identified (or if it already exists), get the vision in front of the whole team as frequently and in as many different ways as you can – write it on a white board, add it to your signature block in internal emails, remind them of it in planning meetings, check frequently to ensure that it is still accurate.