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Learning Agile by Cooking

Don’t just sit there; get your hands dirty and engage all your senses.



This is my learning style. I am a person who cannot sit still for more than one hour. I have always found that classroom training is boring. It requires learners to sit and listen long hours. Some learners often yawn and nod. Active training, on the other hand, is exciting for me because it requires involvement and engagement. After being trained in Constructionism, a learning theory of an MIT professor and the 70:20:10 model for learning and development from instructors at Duke University, I began to create experiential learning environments. Last year I talked to Dave Stewart, an Agile coach in New York, about his Agile workshop. He asked his participants to make drinks by following the Scrum framework. This inspired me to set up Agile learning by cooking.“Do you have a design in mind for your blog? Whether you prefer a trendy postcard look or you’re going for a more editorial style blog - there’s a stunning layout for everyone.”

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This workshop will provide not only the foundation of Agile via “five senses active learning engagement”, and also skills of cooking and friendship. 


Becoming Agile starts by doing Agile. At a recent event, I copied the Agile Manifesto on a huge piece of newsprint and hung on  the wall to ensure that eight participating novice learners saw it when they  arrived at the event at 11 a.m. on Saturday April 24, 2018 in San Francisco. I intentionally made the workshop small to create fully involvement. We mingled and  shared our backgrounds  while having lunch together. Interestingly, none of  them were in Software development, but  all had heard about Agile. I  introduced them who the “customer”  and let them  get to know each other informally. After lunch, I introduced them to the Agile Manifesto and the Scrum framework. One of them volunteered to be a product owner and another a Scrum Master; the rest of the attendees were the developers. All of them were assigned to make Thai papaya salad and a drink. The product owner talked to the customer to receive customer needs. The Scrum Master supported the developers to create user stories to finish everything within two sprints. The user stories started by researching how to make Thai papaya salad and a drink. I asked the developers what they would make first. They recognized immediately that they had to collaborate with the customer. As a result, they would serve a drink before salad.


During each sprint, the developers had 25 minutes, to the event equivalent of real life five days to produce their products. Before starting a new “day”, they ran a daily Scrum meeting. In the first sprint, they tried to create a drink by mixing three  different drinks. On the fourth day, they ran a sprint review meeting instead on the 5th day to ask the customer to try the drinks. I did not interfere and shared with them later that it would be perfect if we worked closely with customers all the time. However, it would be costly if we needed to hire customers to visit a company to give feedback. For example, Google paid my friend $200 for a few hours of trying a new product and giving some feedback. The first sprint ended with a retrospective discussion on day five. Once the second sprint started, the workshop became more exciting and chaotic because the developers did not know exactly how to make papaya salad. Luckily, one of them observed me while I was making it for our lunch. He could professionally use a mortar and a pestle. At this point, I shared with them that developers should develop skills so that each of them could step in and relieve each other if needed. Asking for unplanned training sometimes could be difficult, but a Scrum Master will have to negotiate with top management to help his/her team out. In this case, the team did not need to be trained and it could deliver Thai papaya salad and a drink to its customer. The customer was happy with its products and gave them thumbs up. In the end of the 2nd sprint, we had a sprint retrospective meeting for my workshop feedback. They said I should have introduced them to Agile more deeply. But they also reported that this workshop opened their minds to develop into Agile.


Besides growing into Agile, the participants also developed an additional  skill set, namely the ability to make Thai papaya salad. Thai food is quite popular in San Francisco, as evidenced by the many Thai restaurants in any given neighborhood. But how much better it is to make it yourself. Cooking is a needed skill for survival. Everyone should be able to cook. Making authentic Thai papaya salad actually is not too difficult. But to do so, learners need to know small tips. First, all vegetables should be fresh. Second, pounding chilies with stems will produce a tasty smell. Most importantly, papaya salad should be served immediately and should never be reserved over night. I learned to cook from my mother while growing and I love to share my Thai dishes cooking with anyone willing to learn. That is why I merged cooking and learning Agile. When presented in this way, one can create knowledge of Agile and skills of cooking with fully engagement.


Finally, perhaps the most valuable experience to take from a meetup is the friendships made in the process. After joining many meetups in the Bay Area, I met many wonderful friends from both who are Agilists and non-Agilists. The Agilists have been supporting me to develop my career in Agile. They told me what meetups I should  join, what books I should read, what conferences I should  attend, and whom I should talk to. In this event, all of them are non-Aglists. They are from accounting, architecture, and business management. They shared with me about their work principles. As a consequence, I could understand them as individuals. Moreover, we talked about music, traveling, fun events, and Russia. These topics helped us break the ice and begin the bonds of friendship. In the next two weeks, one of my new friends will celebrate her birthday and she invited me to join her birthday party. After closing the event, my new friends were reluctant to leave and said good-bye more than nine times. Becoming friends through Agile is very important for building Agile communities.


Agile will be sustainable when Agile practitioners are friends.

In the nut shell, the Learning Agile by Cooking workshop  provided a new Agile learning environment by engaging all  five senses; sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. In addition, it created cooking skill sets and friendship in Agile communities.


Learning Agile  is more fascinating and impressive  when Agile learners throw themselves completely onto the practice of Agile. 

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