When you are golfing, let the dialog flow naturally and it will eventually come around to something like – “So, what is it again you say you do?” or “What’s this agile stuff all about?” or “Isn’t agile just a way to avoid process?”. Now’s your chance to change your normal response. Executives glossy eye with your diatribe about the virtues of agile – customer engagement, team empowerment, iterative development, and the like. Just say NO! Instead – show them agile methods in action.

How do you plan your golf game?
You may quickly review the course to see how long, or tight the it is. You probably have a goal that you are trying to reach – out and back in 84 (or, like me, anything under 100!). However, when you are in the clubhouse preparing for the day, are you planning out each hole? Do you determine that you are going to hit a four iron as your second shot on the 5th hole? No. Understand your objective, know your course!

Golf is empirical – you need to experiment and adjust
After you have surmised the course, each hole is planned and executed individually. Each club selection on each stroke on each hole is based on an adjustment from your previous results.

Say you get a monster tee shot on your first hole and you send it 275 yards toward the green, lying on the fairway. Your second stroke may be a nine iron with an easy 75 yards to the hole. However, if you had sliced your first shot wide right in the rough behind a tree, your second shot may be a chip shot back to the fairway. Or if you have a clear line, you may choose a 5 iron with 160 yards to go. The point is, your next club selection and stroke is based on your previous results. It’s empirical. It requires execution, feedback, review and adapting.

In fact, your next hole will be adjusted from the results of previous holes. If you are not hitting the ball long, you will lay up in front of the water. If you beating your partner, you may lay up, or conversely, if you are behind, you may become more aggressive in your strokes to make up ground.

The Metaphor: Golf = Agile Development
Just like golf, you cannot possibly plan for all of the issues, changes, surprises, failures and successes that your team will run into during new product development. And more than golf, you are dealing with a much more complex system.

Navigating the elements of you
In golf you have the elements of you – your mind, body, clubs, balls, swing, etc. When you develop software you have the elements of your company –  yourself, the team, specifications, tools. Just as you have to coordinate with your mind, body, club and the ball to achieve an effective golf stroke (and low score), your development team must work together (collaborate) to be effective in delivering value to your customers.

Navigating the elements of nature
In golf you have the elements of nature – the wind, humidity, grass conditions, trees, sand, water, etc. In new product development, you have the elements of market – the competitors, trends, customers, etc. These external elements are continuously changing the requirements to deliver a successful golf game just as they are continuously changing the requirements to deliver a successful product.

So, the next time you are in an executive briefing and your iteration just went way off track from your plan – yell FORE! That will get their attention, and give them a real understanding why this agile stuff works.