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All Aboard to Trim, Tack, Inspect and Adapt - Sailing the Agile Way

02-Oct-2015 12:00:00 Agile sports Agile outside IT Agile
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I’ve spent the last 26 years in IT and business transformation and have recently joined Radtac as Head of Public Sector. During my relatively short time with them I have come to realise that you can draw many parallels between Agile and your life experiences. Below, I will share with you a personal story about sailing and particularly what my daughter made me realise.

After a twenty-year hiatus from any serious sailing following the completion of my Yacht Master qualification at Cowes, the bug has bitten me again following a couple of very enjoyable boating activities this year.


We decided to spend our holiday in the UK this summer and yes, I know, it’s a foolish thing to even consider, particularly when in previous years we’ve holidayed with guaranteed sunshine in Europe. But with some cajoling I convinced my family to have part of our holiday staying on my father’s boat in South Devon. In preparation for our ‘adventure’ I decided to try and prepare my family by ensuring they understood this wasn’t some lavish fifty-foot gin palace but a sensibly sized twenty-seven foot yacht with ample-ish accommodation for my wife, two daughters and our rather exuberant brown Labrador.

Excitement was high as we arrived at the marina, beautiful sunshine (yes, we did have some this summer!), bobbing boats and lots of port side eateries. Then came our first mistake: when I asked what I needed to get out of the car, expecting a single overnight bag with the essentials, I was told that we needed that bag, some out of that bag, the dog bed, wetsuits, flippers (I kid you not), rucksacks full of night-time teddies, iPads, and a coolbox full of provisions!

Keeping calm I grabbed a trolley and walked down the slipway to the marina with a big enough kit to sail the Atlantic. On arrival at the boat it was clear that space was going to be tight. We did however manage to get everything on board, but as many projects I’d seen before, we’d approached this one knowing that most of what we put on board was not going to be required - I estimated about 45%. That is the same 45% of features never used in a project, according to a statistic reported by the Standish Group at the XP 2002 conference.

This sounded familiar, I thought, especially having been involved in many large programmes. Typically these were fraught with planning mistakes and requirements full of unprioritized functionality when both the customer and supplier knew either
1. they’d never deliver it all, or
2. most of what they delivered would never get used.

Despite the cramped conditions we really did have a great time, we got to know each other again which was not very difficult, as we were all sharing a relatively small boat! We did get out on the water and did some leisure sailing, we chatted, we laughed and thoroughly enjoyed the unique experience and, most importantly, my daughters caught the bug having each had a go at learning the ropes and helming across the bay!

On our return home to landlocked Worcestershire I decided to explore dinghy sailing clubs where the girls could start their lifelong sailing journey just as I had in a Mirror dinghy in Brixham harbour. So here we begin, membership purchased, a lovely wooden decked dinghy has been located and towed home, along with a few clothing essentials to keep them warm during their winter training.

The weekend brought the first day of sailing for my youngest daughter. With the greatest confidence I’ve seen in anybody, she clambered aboard a Bug boat ideal for beginners with good buoyancy and simple to sail. With a little pre-learning provided via a Ladybird sailing book, some diagrams of wind direction and boat positioning sketched on a piece of paper on the kitchen table, she was pushed off from the jetty.

To my amazement she caught the breeze, got to grips with the tiller moving the boat left and right and set off. Of course the first hurdle quickly became apparent when she needed to learn how to tack to come back in the opposite direction. With a little fatherly advice from the safety boat she pushed the tiller over, kept her head down and changed tack as if she’d been doing it forever!

For over an hour she went backwards and forwards across the reservoir, constantly tuning her skills, balancing the boat, trimming the sail, moving upwind and downwind by altering her position and the mainsail to gain boat speed, direction and most importantly confidence.

This leads me to make comparisons with what we tell our customers: Don’t set your organisation’s expectations high by building a detailed plan full of requirements you’ll probably never need. Don’t try and plan everything before you start, prioritise what matters for your business, bring a tightly organised team together, start small to build stability in your new found skills, iterate and adapt, build confidence in what you’re doing and before you know it you’ll be catching the breeze and sailing your own ship called Dignity.

Got a related story you would like to share? Or a question about change in your organisation? If you want to get in touch with me and talk more about ‘Inspecting and Adapting’ for a better business response, get in touch with me at


Related post: ‘A Student’s Take on Agile’ - why you shouldn’t plan in too much detail, rather you are better off responding to change.


Simon Seymour-Perry

Simon Seymour-Perry

Simon is an SC cleared business orientated and commercially minded IT professional and senior leader with over 26 years experience working predominately across large scale transformation and complex system integration programmes within the public sector across the health, local and central government areas. Read more