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When I was a kid, I was a big Bruce Lee fan. I walked around the playground rubbing my nose with my thumb pretending I was the man. When I had a piece of rope, I had to do my version of the nunchaku routine from Way of the Dragon and made cat-like noises. Looking back at Lee, I find it quite striking how many of the principles of his fighting style Jeet Kun Do apply to agile practices.

Check out these descriptions of the fighting style:

  • “Jeet Kune Do is not fixed or patterned, and is a philosophy with guiding thoughts.”
  • “Jeet Kune Do practitioners believe in minimal movements with maximum effects and extreme speed.”
  • “The system works by using different “tools” for different situations, where the situations are divided into ranges, which is kicking, punching, trapping, and grappling, where martial artists use techniques to flow smoothly between them. “
  • “Through his studies Lee came to believe that styles had become too rigid and unrealistic. He called martial art competitions of the day “dry land swimming”. He believed that combat was spontaneous, and that a martial artist cannot predict it, only react to it, and that a good martial artist should “be like water” and move fluidly without hesitation.”

JKD is a reactive style that responds to changes in in situations and applies the best “tool” for getting the job done in the fastest way possible in that situation. JKD does not care about styles or forms for the sake of it.

Ofcourse this philosophy resonates highly with an agile mindset.

So just for fun, here are my Top 5 Bruce Lee AgileĀ Coaching Tips

1. Be like water

In a famous tv interview, Lee explains why kung fu / Jeet Kun Do is “to be like water”.

JKD is a reactive style that responds to changes in in situations and applies the best “tool” for getting the job done in the fastest way possible in that situation. JKD does not care about styles or forms for the sake of it.

In a fight, you have to respond to where the situation flows. Your mind has to be so receptive to the current situation, that you are able to instantly choose the best tool that will eliminate the opponent in the fastest and simplest way possible. Your focus is always on getting to defeat the opponent. It’s not about the form, but about the goal. Water can flow and crash and always adapts to the situation, taking the form that’s needed.

Having this mindset will make you greatly agile, because you are always responding to change over following a plan (form/ritual). This will enable you to make the best decision that delivers value the fastest way.

Applied agile manifesto rule:
“Responding to change over following a plan”

2. Perform the Art of Fighting without fighting


As this famous scene out of the movie Enter the Dragon points out, there are often ways to eliminate an opponent without having to fight.
Very often a problem can be tackled not by working on a solution to the problem, but by eliminating the problem itself.

Recently I ran into a situation where we had to migrate all our applications to a different environment, because our systems were communicating with ‘untrusted parties’. Doing this could take months and months of work. However, we tackled the situation by challenging the problem: “why are the parties ‘untrusted’?”
If we could show that the ‘untrusted’ state of the parties was not validated, we would be saving months of work. This is an example of tackeling a problem by tackeling the problem šŸ™‚

Applied agile principle:
“Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.”
“Working software is the primary measure of progress.” (an elimated oponent is the only thing that counts)

 

3. Prefer effectiveness over style


During this casting interview, Lee explains how JKD looks for the fastest and most effective way, instead of following al kinds of rituals and patterns.

When a guy grabs you, you could do all kinds of steps to make him let you go, OR you could just step on the toes.

It all comes down to having the end in mind and having the vision how to get there in the shortest, most effective way possible.

Agile principles used:
“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” ,
“Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.”
“Working software is the primary measure of progress.”

As an example, when a team is stuck, I often find it useful to help the team take a few steps back and make them look at the big picture.

What is it that we are trying to achieve and are the current activities helping us to reach that goal? I have frequently encountered cases where the activities were targeted at trying to solve side effects instead of trying to solve the main problem.Ā Many times this is caused by not having broken down the problem into small enough pieces to identify the pieces as valuable or not.

4.Ā Use the individual as your starting point

“I believe that the only way to teach anyone proper self-defence is to approach each individual personally. Each one of us is different and each one of us should be taught the correct form. By correct form I mean the most useful techniques the person is inclined toward. Find his ability and then develop these techniques. I don’t think it is important whether a side kick is performed with the heel higher than the toes, as long as the fundamental principle is not violated. Most classical martial arts training is a mere imitative repetition – a product – and individuality is lost. [..] When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.”

True agility applies to the way you design, code, test, deliver and evolve your software, as well as continually improving teams and organizations by fast learning loops.

Still too often I see organizations enforcingĀ their rules and way of working upon teams, without thinking about whether it will fit with the people working in the teams. Ā “We will now use this tool, in this way, at this time” whether it fits your situation or not. The best way of working is always the one that makes teams and individuals perform the best and this will differ from team to team and individual to individual.

Agile principle used:
“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”

5. Strive for technical excellence

Bruce-Lee
In the words of Bruce Lee:
“I refer to my hands, feet and body as the tools of the trade. The hands and feet must be sharpened and improved daily to be efficient. It is true that the mental aspect of kung-fu is the desired end; however, to achieve this end, technical skill must come first. The techniques, though they play an important role in the early stage, should not be too restrictive, complex or mechanical. If we cling to them, we will become bound by their limitation. Remember, you are expressing the technique, and not doing Technique number two, Stance three, Section four? “

In my opinion, the agile world has spread out so thinly that nowadays people can be ‘agile software development experts’ without having any insight into technical excellence. True agility applies to the way you design, code, test, deliver and evolve your software, as well as continually improving teams and organizations by fast learning loops. In the end, once you have optimized your way of working at team level to a maximimum, it still comes down to the quality of your software. You still need to perform the punch, kick and block.

Agile principle used:
“Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.”

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