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Agile and Music: Introduction

When you think about music, do you think about Agile or agility? Perhaps an even better question, is when you think about Agile (or Scrum, XP, Lean, etc), do you think about music?

I picked up a musical instrument later in life compared to most people, but I was a good five years into my musical journey before I was officially introduced to Agile and Scrum. I definitely did not see a connection for several years, but as I grew in both areas, so did the connection.

Most of us are probably familiar with the difference between doing agile and being agile. Doing agile can be as simple as learning the basics and following some practices (iterations, standups, etc). In my mind, this is the just the first step in our Agile journey. Unfortunately for many people and organizations, it is often the only step on their journey. In order to keep learning and growing, we also need to understand, believe, and live an Agile mindset, or “being Agile”. Music is similar. You can learn to play a musical instrument and even play with others, but there is a large difference between being a guitar player1 and being a musician.

I play the bass guitar and take lessons twice a month with a wonderful instructor. He often talks about learning music as having two sides — the intellectual-mind and the heart-mind. The intellectual-mind understands music theory (notes, scales, rhythm, etc) and the practical application (technique). The heart-mind is about feeling, and spirit. I have been in IT for over 20 years and as you can probably guess, about 90% of my instruction deals with expanding the heart-mind. I can comprehend musical concepts quickly but learning to feel and instinctively apply those concepts is not something that comes easily to me.

In Agile, we can hear about self-organizing teams, but helping and empowering teams to become self-organizing is infinitely more difficult. We can take a new (or even an experienced) team and train them to use Agile practices, but how can we get them to become Agile? I don’t believe that there is a process that you can follow that will allow teams to become Agile, all teams have to take on their own unique journey.  I am fortunate, however, that I can lean on both my Agile and musical journey for inspiration and guidance along the way.


1 Also a bass player, keyboard player, drummer, singer, etc.
2 I can’t claim this is an original thought. If you want to know more I would recommend Victor Wooten’s “The Music Lesson”.

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