It ain't what you do, it's the way that you don't... that's what values are!

When it comes to your goal, it might be what you don't do instead of what you do that is important
(Photo by Untitled Photo on Unsplash)

I joined a new company in 2020, one which flew the flag of values right from the outset which was amazing. I was then given an amazing opportunity in my second week to explore an outreach engagement instead of starting directly on project work. Reflecting afterwards, it made me realise that sometimes you can demonstrate your values by what you don’t do instead of what you do. What did you stop doing to start something else that was a higher priority and chimed with your organisation’s values? **Your takeaway: ** If you haven’t recently, do it now…STOP DOING SOMETHING!

Does your company really value values?

Has your company got a values statement? Of course it has! Even the mobile Dog Grooming Van that overtakes you seems to have that emblazoned on it’s side. The teams you work with are probably no different. Values statement on the wall? TICK Coat of arms with latin motto to back that up HALF TICK Company tattoos of team name on body? NOT TICK Okay, maybe a step too far, but you get my drift. Values are good.

Every day when I sit down at my desk, I have an array of things around me as a coach. One of the most value are set of coaching cards. There are loads of these, from those designed to help initiate conversations such as these wonderful ones. The most powerful I have though, don’t have words on at all. Cards like these get pulled out when I want to work with a team to help them document what their values are and tease out how we can capture those in a working agreement.

I haven’t had a chance yet to use it, but at a recent Agile in the City in Bristol, I really loved Lee’s session on a Guerilla Values workshop taking this to the next level. It just shows how important these are to talk about and capture when working with a team. Although, possibly not in a song ( thank you Dominos )or a stone pillar ( sorry Ed .

One day, opening my calendar at work, clutching the Post-it notes I had scrawled on from home, I realised that I had a refinement session booked right over the middle of my son’s school Christmas performance. How could I make both? Well, I just couldn’t. Which would I chose? I mean, my employer always used to bang on about how they valued the work - life balance…was this a chance for me to test out and display that? What about that refinement session though, that was the only chance I had of working with the Product Owner…if I missed that when on earth would we do that before our next sprint planning?

Don’t do it.

Sorry, what did my brain just say?

The refinement session. Just don’t do it. Re-schedule it.

What would you do? Keep it or bin it?

I decided not to do it. In the middle of a teeth-grindingly out of tune rendition of Silent Night (and that was the staff doing it, not the children), I realised I had definitely made the right decision to come along, as I saw the smile on my son’s face as he picked me out of the crowd. I had prioritised this about the refinement session. I had embodied the company value by focussing on what I hadn’t done rather than what I had.

Because of this experience, with the last note of Silent Night etched into my brain, I explained in our next team retrospective, I wanted to focus on what we weren’t doing, to highlight our team values. What were we de-prioritising, pushing lower down the queue to do something else that did represent our values. If we weren’t doing that, were we really living those values? Following the concept of a waste snake, we then drafted up a Values Bin.

After this experience and a few others, in my own personal retrospective at home, I realised I needed to make a change and challenge myself in a new role. I moved to a new company, still working roughly in the same sort of sector. Day one arrived. A big team Google Meet with the other 5 people that had joined at the same time as me. Up front and centre was the company vision and values, again great to see and something the company celebrated. When would I get a chance to not do something, to help celebrate those I wondered?

The answer came in Week 2.

“Hi Rich, would you like to get involved in an outreach project, to help students find out more about software engineering?”

Yes, I thought, I would love to! Thanks for thinking of me.

“Great! We need to upload a tutorial video in a weeks time.

Crikey. Gulp. Okay, so you don’t want me to do any billing work on projects with our customers at the moment?

“Nope, that’s fine, this is equally as important, just crack on and shout if you need any help!”

Crikey. Has that ever happened to you?

Because of that one decision by the director, I started down a very different path. With a clear goal in mind, but control over how to reach it, I started arranging calls with people around the company I hadn’t met before. It was lovely. I was welcomed with open Zoom arms and met some amazing people with a really wide range of stories of how they got into tech and what they enjoyed. Not once did I worry about not doing direct commercial work. Every time I chatted to somebody new in the company they completely understood what I was doing and why, wished me well and offered help and support. I was blown away.

Not only did I get to know people around the company more, but I got to know what was possible filming and editing at home. I learned about how we got stuff ordered at work. Very important. I also spent time working with one of our industry partners who was sponsoring the whole week which was great. I explored with them their plans for the future and how we could be a part of this, both locally when Covid allows, as well as virtually. Now and in the future.

Ta daaaaa! It’s live. Phew.

Pressing the send button to submit the video off to the organisers was a wonderful feeling. I had learned so much in the last week and that was only my second week in the company! I guess you could have expected that. What surprised me was how my new colleagues reacted to this. Most of them were really interested in what I was doing and not annoyed that I was on project work. I was representing the company values by not doing as well as doing at the same time and they were on board with that. It started conversations I need to follow up on, to help take this particular strand of work forward for us, but I am excited about the future prospects.

The next time I am put in this situation, of deciding which path to take, I think I will be much bolder. Taking a lead from our current title in the Agile Book Club I help faciliate at work, I will be more up front about the work I am not doing, to focus on what I believe is of higher value for either the company or our customers. If I don’t do this first, then I simply won’t be living the values in the way that this project has proved so successful.

What’s my challenge to you, reading this? Well, what are you not going to do today? As Agile records in its manifesto, maximise the art of work not done.

Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is

Give it a go and let me know how you get on with that and yes, you can see the video I made…its on YouTube here - enjoy! :-)

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Written on April 16, 2021