Off the rails

This month, I was extremely lucky and honored to speak at the Agile Virtual Summit, hosted by Adam Weisbart.  First, let me say that Adam did an amazing job on this event from top to bottom:  marketing, communication, speakers, topics, etc.  I can also attest that he went above and beyond to think of back-ups including second lines, generators, etc.

Yet the best laid plans, the tech gremlins still got his connection.  My session was unable to be completed (don’t worry there was a recording to provide attendees; so it all worked out).  In that moment, the stress was high for both of us and we responded in what just seemed normal for us.

However, given the volume of messages that I received based on the response, I decided to share my approach when something just goes off the rails.  Now I must note that this is my approach when I’m extremely visible and things are going off the rails.  When I’m not in front of people, I have a very different reaction that is not fit to share with people.

Honestly, I can’t say that I was very intentional about this but after this event, I thought about other times things have gone of the rails (for instance, then the computer froze at Agile2017 and I was on stage and they switched to a backup computer but I had kept trying to force the screen to change with the clicker so no it was at the end of the slide deck…OFF THE RAILS)…I do actually have a pattern of approach.

    • Transparency.  I don’t pretend to ignore or diminish what is happening and the impact it might cause.  Now with a live stream being down for over 30 minutes, there’s no hiding that.  There’s no value in “what’s the story” – just acknowledging that this happened and is the reality.
    • Ownership. In that moment, it didn’t matter how many things we had planned as backups and risk mitigation.   Does not matter – there will be time for that but right now, just own that it happened and you are sorry.  The impact is real no matter what the intent or attempts were. Later, I wrote a post on linkedIn to give so more details.
    • Humor.  On stage at Agile2017, I pivoted to explain that there was a very important technique all agilists should learn…called the failure bow.  Followed by demonstrating, taking ownership of what just happened and transparently asking the team behind the curtain to reset the slides.  At AVS, because I was home, I walked over got myself a bottle of wine, poured a normal size glass and when we went live…I toasted us being back up and joked maybe there was benefits of being virtual after all.  Adam and I proceeded to banter back and forth and just laugh – as we stressed about whether it was going to stay live.  I can not even begin to count the number of screen shot photos that were sent to us.
    • Alternatives.  Even with transparency, ownership and humor…people can still feel a sense of disappoint and loss for what was originally planned.  While we were waiting for the connection speeds to return, we brainstormed how we could get the session content to people.  Adam quickly considered what his original plan was and pivoted not just for my session but for the whole week.  Originally, the plan was more to watch live if you registered for the free pass and the recordings only for the vip pass.  However, given this, he made the recordings available for I think a 24 hour period after the session.  He continued this approach for the entire week of sessions not just the ones that had issues.

We didn’t do anything special in particular but because we did all four of these, descriptions that we handled that perfectly with grace and humor.  I do not get grace as a compliment often. I think I might frame some of those!

Now did I have to go for a walk afterwards (and finish more of the wine), absolutely.  But in that moment, being a leader that was demonstrating what we know happens in the world – not everything will go as plan, how will you inspect and adapt – became the most important lesson.

What do you do when things go off the rails?

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