Agility Perks From Below

Plumbers make this joke on day one of having a new hire. "The first law of plumbing: shit flows downhill." That line probably pre-dates western civilization. It’s good to make a noobie kid laugh a little nervously.

Agility doesn’t flow downhill.

Agility doesn’t flow downhill, it perks up from below. In one sentence, this is because the bottom of the hill is where the people who directly make things make them, and agility is concerned most particularly with them, with how their lives intertwine with the making.

I spend my time in an organization working with the folks at the bottom three floors, only occasionally reaching higher into the org chart. That’s not an accident or a prejudice or the result of my politics or the best I get offered. It’s a conscious choice based in this notion that those first few floors are where the makers live and the making happens. Of course, i’m entirely disinterested in floors per se — or even org charts. What I mean is that the further I am away from the "makers making" part of an org, the less value I can offer that org in terms of better outcomes.

Over the years, i’ve had many peers in the coaching game whose great desire was to work at the top, not at the bottom. For me, there is only one in-practice reason and lots of spurious in-theory reasons why I would desire that. (In practice, it offers more money and prestige for less actual provided value, a perfectly legitimate reason to choose it, but not one that floats my particular boat — except on jealous days, that is.)

The last two centuries are full of people who famously created and led organizations that make things for money. You certainly know of some, and a few of you even idolize one or more of those folks. So let me ask you a question. How much did your "typical" entrepreneurial hero spend — time, money, thought, experience-building, sheer energy — on, with, around, and about, the actual people actually making the actual things being sold?

Easy answer: "lots and lots and lots".

Henry ford’s one of the big ones, for all his grotesquerie as a human, who quite literally changed the world. He did this by being intimate, to the point of obsession, with the makers making. He was a paternalist dickhead, so lots of his decisions we’d find gross, but his focus was spot on. "My company depends on makers making, so that is where i’ll work the most." There was no detail in the world of his makers making that was too small to command his attention.

Pigeonholes being what they are, convenient places to stop thinking, coaches are often "technical" or "product" or "process" coaches. They frequently self-identify that way, even. Folks often ask me if one of these little tissue-wrapped boxes is the best one. If they’re failing in one of them, they ask me if they should do the other. If they’re succeeding, they ask me why I don’t.

Orgs or org-parts that depend on makers making depend on every aspect of that: the technique, the flow, the spirit, the structure, the tools, every part. Just as the making — focused on the made — needs lots of different skills that very few individuals possess in their entirety, so does the coaching — focused on the making. These boxes, "process", "technical", "coaching", are useless.

Whatever your skillset and your method, if you’re a software development coach you are a "makers making" coach, and the closer you stay to that, the more value you will be add, be it from any of the skills and insights you possess.

Shit flows downhill, but agility perks up from below, because agility is focused on the makers making, and that is where they live.

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