I have recently taken up playing golf again.
I’m not really sure what made me make this rash decision, maybe it's because I’ve just turned 53 and need some exercise, maybe it's because I’ve decided being a CEO isn’t stressful enough and I need something else to worry about; maybe it’s just because I secretly like wearing loud trousers.
I don’t really know.
What I do know is that now I’ve started to take golf semi-seriously, I’ve suddenly realized how complicated the game is. I keep expecting an epiphany when I’ll start playing like Jack Nicklaus, but instead I keep going out and playing more like Jacques Tati!
What have I learned from this experience?
‘Stop playing golf’ I hear you cry, and indeed that is a refrain I hear regularly from other members at my club. I guess there’s only so many times other members can duck from a topped, skied, hooked, sliced ‘n’ diced shot from yours truly.
Actually, to digress for a minute, the best golf shot I ever saw played came from the COO of Radtac, Mike Short. Many years ago Mike and I were playing Fulwell Park golf course in London, it was raining (situation normal there then!), and he was standing under a tree where his ball had come to lie.
He settled confidently into his stance, had a comforting wiggle of the club and then took a mighty swipe at his ball. He missed the ball completely and, having wet hands, let go of his club at the top of his swing. The club went up the tree, clattered around a bit between the branches, and stayed there.
I’ve heard of the rule that a golfer must play the ball from where it lies, however, I’m not sure what the rule is if the ball is on the grass but the club is up a tree! Best golf shot I’ve ever seen and one for the R&A I think.
Anyway, I digress … back to the key question: what have I learned from starting to play what many think is the world’s most difficult game?
Is there anything I’ve learned from this experience that I can bring back into my work life with Radtac?
Maybe there is... Here is my go at defining the ‘Agile Golfing Manifesto'
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Absolutely right; there is a direct correlation between the person who looks smartest and has all the latest gear and the worst player on the course, they are typically the same person.
The successful player isn’t the one with all the gear, the successful player is the one who forms relationships and learns from watching and listening to other players. Note to self: stop spending money on more gear and garb, and start spending time with a coach and some mates who know what they’re doing.
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Hmmm, tricky one, I don’t really produce software when playing golf. But hold on a minute, many people change the word ‘software’ to ‘outcomes’ when using Agile.
OK, so, working outcomes over comprehensive documentation... I suppose this statement could be read to mean playing the game rather than reading books about the game.
To think about this further I need to understand how many golf books there are available out there. I have used the ‘MakingItUpAsICantBeBotheredToResearchIt’ institute’s findings that there are in fact, and I quote, ‘bleedin’ millions of golf books on the market today’ (ref : miuaicbbtri.com).
An interesting fact I’m sure you’ll agree.
Do these books do any good ?
After reading many of these books to fully analyse what I should be doing (I used to be a Business Analyst – ‘nuff said) I have come to the conclusion that what most of them are good for is propping the door open. All they have achieved for me is confusing the hell out of me; I stand transfixed over the ball not even able to make a swing as I process the 42 latest ideas I’d learned the previous night from the latest book, true analysis paralysis.
I have recently implemented a more ‘inspect and adapt’ philosophy to my golf, I’m playing the game rather than reading how to play the game. It seems to be working as I can now swing the club again.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Golf is probably the only game that you play against yourself, that is why it is so difficult. The customer you collaborate with is yourself.
It’s normally pretty easy to see the player who has agreed a ‘contract’ with themselves over how good they must play on a particular day or how low their handicap must be at a particular point in time. They’re the person with the vocabulary that would make a Rugby player blush, throwing their bags and clubs around as they go round the course in abject misery.
Most good golfers set themselves high level goals and objectives and then collaborate with themselves to achieve them. The one absolute guaranteed way to have a bad round at golf is to get angry, the one absolute guaranteed way to get angry is to agree a contract with yourself that can’t reasonably be delivered.
It is said about professional golfers that they are only ever thinking about one shot; the next one. If they play a bad shot they figure out why it happened, inspect, adapt, and then focus on the next shot with a strongly positive mindset. They are very committed to the ‘Art of the Possible’. Have you ever seen Lefty’ Mickelson play? Some of the shots he plays on a golf course shouldn’t be possible in this physical universe, but he does it anyway.
Responding to change over following a plan
The Cunning Plan: Let’s assume that we create a detailed plan to achieve the lowest possible score from a round. After all, failing to plan is planning to fail, so this appears to make sense. We’ll also create a team of golfers who specialise in certain shots, which also makes sense as different golfers are better at different shots.
We’ll have someone who is great at driving the ball and long shots, someone who is superb at playing medium/short length shots, someone who is really good at chips and bunkers and someone who is a renowned putter. Seemingly we’ve covered most typical shots played in a round and therefore we should do brilliantly as a team.
We also want to ensure that all team members’ ‘Work In Progress (WIP)’ is high and equitable, therefore we’ll agree that we’ll take shots in turn. That way no-one will be idle for long and everyone will be happy and motivated as the work is shared out fairly.
All of what I’ve described above appears to make great sense. Let’s have a look at what actually happened when I talked some other members at my club into giving a go to what I’ve described above.
The Less Cunning Implementation of the plan: I was the driver and long shot expert. The cunning plan was that I would drive straight down the fairway setting up an easy second shot to the hole for the medium/short game specialist.
I took the first drive.
I hit a birdie.
The birdie I hit was a large goose.
I had faded (some over pedantic folk may say ‘sliced’) the ball from the first tee to the right towards a water hazard. With trepidation and holding their breath, my team colleagues watched the ball sail towards the water. Then, miracle of miracles, it got a good bounce to the left and looked like it was going to stay on dry land.
The ball hit the goose. The goose flew left and the ball flew right, straight into the water.
‘Honk’ went the goose, ‘Prat’ went the team.
We had to respond to this unexpected (unexpected for them, I’d seen me drive a golf ball before!) mishap.
The next person to play was our medium/short game specialist, this made sense in our cunning plan; however ‘Reg-the-Wedge’ is 65 and can’t hit the ball very far anymore, and he had a 350 yard shot left.
However, it was the plan we’d agreed, so we decided to stick with it and Reg played his shot… We were now 250 yards away from the hole.
At this moment the round got marginally better for 75% of the team because the goose decided to come back and have a psychotic episode, which resulted in it chasing Reg down the fairway. Cheered the rest of us up no end.
Aligning with our plan, it was then the turn of our chipping and putting specialist. It’s a well known golf fact that the older the golfer, the closer they are to the green playing the short shots. We had therefore invited ‘Reg-the-Wedge’s dad, Robert (84), to be our man.
Robert played his shot with great style and aplomb, we were now 220 yards away from the hole.
At this point we were also slowly, very slowly, moving towards some trees on the left. Each player was playing progressively left as they were trying to stay away from the water and further interaction with Psycho-Goose. The plan said that the next to play was our putting expert, a bit of a problem as we were still 220 yards from the green. However, we needed to make sure everyone’s ‘Work-In-Progress’ was equal, so he hit his putt. We were now 180 yards from the green and marginally blocked out by some trees from hitting towards the green.
It was my shot next.
I hit a superb long shot.
The ball hit a tree, it then flew back over the fairway and landed back in the lake; surprisingly near to Psycho Goose, which had another psychotic break and resulted in us all being chased off the hole by an apoplectic Goose.
The next hole we dumped the cunning plan and just went back to playing all our own shots.
I have recently taken up playing golf again. I’m not really sure what made me make this rash decision, but I’m glad I did. I may be, and will probably remain to be, crap at golf. However, I’m going to keep playing, but definitely in an agile way!
So, the Agile Golfing Manifesto - does it make sense to you, do you recognize anything here in your personal or work life? Are there other sports that Agile values and principles could be applied to?
I’d love to hear you views and opinions.
P.S. Don’t hit geese with golf balls. Apparently they don’t like it.