A House for Hermit Crab

One of the wonderful things about being a parent is all of the children’s books you get to read. I never fail to be amazed at the simplicity, grace, and sheer storytelling genius that I find in many children’s books. I’m thinking of amazing books like Where the Wild Things Are. It’s stories like these that seem compelling no matter what your age. One of my personal favorites is a little story by Eric Carle called A House for Hermit Crab.

In this story, our hero the hermit crab has grown out of his old shell and it’s time to find a new one. So off he goes and finds himself a nice, brand-spanking new shell. He’s pretty pleased with the fit, but to be honest, it looks a little plain and could use a little decoration. So our hero ventures forth in search of a little bit here or there to decorate his new home with. Each time he meets a new character (a starfish, an anemone, a coral) he greats them with great joy, compliments them on their beauty, and invites them to share his house with him. It’s a long journey, and at the end of a year he has a magnificent shell covered with many dazzling creatures. Just as he feels happiest, he realizes he’s growing out of this shell, and with some regret moves on to a new shell.

This story speaks to me on a couple of different levels. Like the hermit crab, I have adopted different process frameworks (call them shells) over my career. Early on it was XP. Then it was Scrum. Then SAFe…and God only knows what the next bright shiny framework is that I’ll wear. And with each one, I discovered unique practices that seemed like useful additions to my process house. These were practices like test driven development, pair programming, mob-programming, and so on. Each one I held up to the light and thought, “You’re awesome!” And invited my teams to try them. It took years, but I collected quite an array of decorations for my shell. Usually, just when I felt pretty confident with it all, I started to outgrow that shell, and with some regret, moved on to a new shell. So the process repeats itself. I know that my journey has been metaphorically very similar to that of the hermit crab. I adopt a model, modify it to make it mine, and eventually grow out of it.

There’s another reason A House for Hermit Crab speaks to me. It’s the delightful open and inviting attitude of the hermit crab as he meets each new creature. I feel the same way about a lot of the people, practices and processes in our agile community (…and beyond). I guess I tend to err on the inclusive side. I think of it as a “play first” approach. Extend the open invitation and see what happens. All too painfully often our community tends to do the opposite. There is far too much, “That’s not agile” and far too little invitation to join and explore together. I think that our little Hermit Crab has an admirable way of approaching novelty.

Ultimately, I think I like the way that A House for Hermit Crab makes me feel. Not to get too precious about it, but this feeling of open invitation is what I long for the most. It’s what originally drew me to agile in the first place. We all will likely have many different shells (or models, or frameworks) that we will inhabit at one time or another as we grow. We should invite each other to decorate those shells to reflect what we think is beautiful, and share them with others. That is what motivated me to write my recent series of articles about SAFe Mix-in’s. SAFe is the shell in this case, and we can decorate that shell any way we please with many interesting practices. If you are curious, like me, and want to decorate your own shell, check out the following Mix-ins:

Perhaps my SAFe shell is starting to feel a little cramped, so maybe it’s time I shared it with someone else.

Interested in more Mix-ins? Join Ron Quartel and I for a 3 day workshop on SAFe+FAST Agile. Combine the 2 to get max value from your agile transformation. It’s an opportunity to explore the latest scaled agile processes and practices with other agile innovators on May 15, 16, 17. ‪https://bit.ly/2HXCcKD ‬

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