My Agile Journey

My Agile Journey


My exposure to the world of work began at the early age of 15, as my family had just moved to Chicago and I needed to find a way to pay for my recreational activities. The industry I, by accident fell into was the Hospitality Industry as I started as a dishwasher at a restaurant called “The Anvil Club” in Dundee, Illinois.
 
I was lucky to have a great team in the kitchen and dishwashing area that allowed me to shine and excel and was quickly promoted to “Pot Washer” – I know it sounds funny, but it paid $.25 more per hour and we got to get out earlier than the dishwashers!
 
I continued to quickly grow into “Prep Boy” and finally “Bus Boy” – here is where you made the money! (Tips). I loved the people I worked with, but a lot of my friends were getting jobs at a local amusement park so I followed them.
 
This move into the Theme Park Industry unknowingly became my life! After high school I met a mentor who took me under his arm and made sure I learned the business in its entirety. Although to be honest with you I did not appreciate it at the time.
 
I remember one day, when I was a games manager he came to me to tell me he was moving me to be the Warehouse Manager – What! In that industry the Games Manager was a lot cooler position than that of a Warehouse Manager!! I complaint and complaint, but I did not win so cursing him I went to the warehouse.
 
I did not appreciate it until a year later when I went to accounting and realized how much I had learned about inventory management, cost of sales, etc. it made me a better manager!!
 
He continued to move me around the organization and assigned new responsibilities for me and soon I found myself at the age of 24 as the General Manager of a Water Park in Houston, TX with over $6 million in revenue and over 700 employees – this was a blessing and a curse!
 
It was a blessing because I had the opportunity to lead teams of which I had just been a part of. This allowed me to understand their wants and needs better not to mentioned that I had worked in every one of those teams, from operations, to finance, marketing, food and beverage – I knew how they felt about management and their jobs, I believe this is when circumstances led me to the Agile Principles without really know they existed.
 
If you really think about it theme parks have no alternative but to be Agile, our big parks have 4,000 employees spread over 250 acre properties – These parks get over 20,000 guests attending every day! With an extremely complex and DYNAMIC environment, things change by the minute!
 
Theme Parks are like little cities, we have streets, traffic, parking, restaurants, retail stores, mechanical rides, maintenance, security, etc., etc., etc. so they are very complex environments where traditional hierarchical models just don’t work - we empower our teams to make decisions and create an environment that is safe and fun for our guests!
 
I believe that one of the advantages I had as I began to take on more complex leadership roles was not only that I was just part of those teams and understood them deeply, but that I had incredible mentors that allowed me to “create my own environment”, this meant to allow me to make mistakes and learn from them – and trust me…….I made a lot of mistakes!

The Agile Manifesto


It is funny that when I learned the principles of the Agile Manifesto I found that they had always been part of my success:
 
INDIVIDUALS AND INTERACTIONS over processes and tools – In the theme park industry it is all about the individual, if our employees (funny, we called them team members) are not happy, they are not going to provide a happy service to our guest – so we truly focus on creating an environment where our “team members” are happy!
 
WORKING SOFTWARE over comprehensive documentation – Even though we don’t develop software products we do have products, rides, restaurants, retail stores, shows, etc. Our guest could care less that we have the most comprehensive documentation on how a show should be produced, but if there is no show…..well
 
CUSTUMER COLLABORATION over contract negotiation – Again, our customer in the theme park industry is our “Guest” and the contract is the ticket they purchase to enter the park. The name says it all “OUR GUEST” we treat them as they were our guests at our home, we listen to want their wants, needs and desires are and we build the best experience for them!
 
RESPONDING TO CHANGE over following a plan – As I mentioned before, in the theme park industry nothing is constant, when you have 20,000 guests walking through your streets, watching your shows, riding your rides, eating at your restaurants and shopping at our stores you better be AGILE and on your feet ready to adjust when things change……and let me tell you things change!
 
The funny thing about this is that the more I learned about Agile and Scrum the more surprised I became as I saw an almost prefect correlations of how I led my teams.
 
These principles led me to be extremely successful in my career like leading the first international endeavor for the company at the age of 35, responsible for a $100 million project the launched the international division of the company!
 
But you are probably wondering where the “Curse” is, if everything was so great in my career……. Exactly in my career, but you see so much success at a such an early age made me obsess over power and money, there was never enough. I wanted more power a bigger position and more money.
 
My obsession turned me into a workaholic working over 80 hours a week, my entire life revolved around my work…… I don’t even know how I met my wife and how we had kids if I was always at work. My wife makes fun of me now, she says “are you sure they are your kids?”
 
I was so obsessed with power and money (my job) that I did not attend my daughter’s baptism! I was too busy with a very important job issue I told my wife. I used to be so proud that I had NEVER in my career had called in sick or that I would work for months without taking a day off, that is how this became a curse.
 
But somebody must really like me up there, because as I was wrapping up my international assignment in Mexico my wife and my two daughters were kidnapped for ransom! You are probably wondering why I said “somebody likes me up there” – well, you see people don’t change easily unless something dramatic happens in their lives and I guess I needed this “rude awakening”
 
Yes, it was bad. It was a high level kidnapping where twelve masked men with AK47s in three vehicles surrounded my family as my kids were being dropped off at school, luckily the body guards did not pull out their weapons and start shooting or my family would have been caught in the cross-fire!
 
They were taken to an undisclosed location and the nightmare continued for 16 days!
 
We were blessed that they were not harmed physically and after long negotiations and me losing all the wealth I had accumulated and obsessed over, got them back!
 
My life began to change very fast and even though I did not understand it at first, it was changing for the better. The first thing I did when I got my family back was to ensure that I was home for dinner every night at 7:00 pm, although this brought certain complications with my employer since they were used to me working “all the time”
 
Soon I found myself in a difficult position where, i decided to leave the company! I thought the world was going to collapse on me……. What?   I have no money and now just left the company I had worked for and invested all of me into for 25 years!!!  No money, No job and a wife and two kids!!

Life's Principles


Funny how life works, and I guess I wasn’t ready just yet because as I was being fired one of my daughters was diagnosed with a very ugly disease called Myotonic Dystrophy – They say bad things come in three’s!!!
And the learning began….
 
Assimilation Year – The first year after the kidnapping was probably the toughest, since you begin to ask “why?” you can’t understand why things happen and begin to question the purpose of life! But to be honest this was also the best way to learn. I dug deep down inside, read every book there was about life and my little sister became my Spiritual Advisor.
 
It was a very tough year, you go through extreme feelings of sadness (depression), happiness, madness and hate – I discovered that I had never hated before and how hate only destroys you and the ones you love.
 
Acceptance Year – The second year, after you have done all the soul searching and you think you understand better the meaning of life, you say “OK it’s happen we are all ok so let’s move on with life”
 
Even though this year was easier than the first, there is still something inside you that holds you back, eats into your soul little by little.
 
Forgiveness Year – The third year is when I learned about the most wonderful action humans have at their disposal  “Forgiveness” I learned that forgiveness sets you free! It takes you to a level I never new existed! Forgiveness is Love! And it benefits you and all those around you!
 
You are probably wondering “what does any of this have to do with Agile” and I would have to say that my experience led me to live my life under principles that Agile was founded under.
 
I learned that life is not about me, that I life is beyond me and that I have the responsibility to leave this world a little better than I found it! I learned how to be a better husband, a better father, a better leader and a better human being.
 
If you think about it, Agile and Scrum are about creating an environment where people thrive, and if people thrive (under the principles of agile and scrum) our world thrives and companies thrive and that can only be achieved if people understand that life is beyond us!
 
I know live my life under four pillars and three principles:
 
Pillars:
 
Family and Friends – I make sure that I am always including my family and friends wants needs and desires as I go on living my life, what can I do for them, how can I engage with them.
 
Professional – Work is an important pillar in my life and I integrate it into my world be finding ways to add value and use it to have a positive impact in the world.
 
Community – I truly believe that we have a responsibility to participate and help our community, and it does not mean that you have to volunteer at the local shelter – just be a good neighbor, a good citizen add value to your community.
 
Health and Spiritual – I combine this two because I don’t believe you can be one without the other. Even though I am not religious I respect all religions, but I think it is more important to be spiritual, you need to take time to take care of your body and your soul.
 
These four pillars have been essential in my “pursuit of happiness” , but it also led me to the three principles I live my life and run my business under:
 
Relationships – I believe everything in life is about “relationships”. For me relationships is not what you can do for me, but what can I do for you! The funny thing is that there is absolutely nothing I can do for you until I get to know you (this is where the relationship process begins). This takes time, multiple iterations, and it takes work!
 
Value Proposition – It is through those iterations that we learn, little by little what your wants, needs, desires, and challenges are. It is only then that we can see if we have a “value proposition” for the relationship – if we don’t bring any value, the relationship will not last.
 
Honesty – Relationship and value proposition can only happen is we are honest, but I mean honesty at a deeper level. Honesty to me is to be able to look in the mirror is our selves as who we “truly” are and not who we think we are (which is very difficult for people), honesty as to be genuine, to be transparent, not to have agendas, to be vulnerable. It is incredible how “honesty” provides the glue to bring everything else together!
 
It’s funny how a bad event could have turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me!  It will always be a bad event, but if I had a magic wand to go back and change my life, I would NOT change anything.
 
This experience has led me to learn how to truly impact our world in positive way; I learned that there was one more “style” of leadership besides participative, delegative, or authoritarian, charismatic, primal even servant….  I discovered “Inspirational Leadership”