If an alien were to walk around a building containing Agile Teams, it would be reasonable for the alien to conclude that Post-it notes are some sort of deity. There are walls turned into shrines devoted to them and humans seem to stand in groups around them to pay homage at regular intervals.
There are even evangelists who are tasked with spreading the word about Post-it notes. They advocate their use in all aspects of life, espousing the message that Post-it notes make everything better. They provide coaching tips on such matters as:
- How to write on Post-it notes.
- The best Post-it notes to buy.
- Which are the best pens to write on Post-it notes
- How to remove Post-it notes from the block of Post-it notes so that they retain optimal stickiness.
- How to display Post-it notes so that other Post-itnoteists can be impressed by your commitment to Post-itnoteism.
It would seem that the received wisdom is that it is impossible to be Agile unless you fully subscribe to Post-itnoteism.
Post-itnoteism is a Cargo Cult.
Post-it notes have no agency. They are inert. They are bright pieces of paper with a sticky edge. On their own, they achieve nothing.
Post-it notes are a fire hazard (paper on a wall isn’t very smart), a challenge to those with dust allergies and offensive to those with sensory issues. Whilst they can be recycled, the adhesives may ultimately make their way into the water supply. Displaying them on walls may cause an information security risk.
In the hands of an agile thinker Post-it notes can be used to support the process of agile thought. Put Post-it notes in the hand of an idiot and you have an idiot with brightly coloured sticky paper.
I was fortunate enough to work with Oliver Quinlan at Plymouth University. He introduced me to real intellectual rigour. He pushed me to unwind all my thinking to make sure I understood the Purpose of any action, policy or strategy. In short, always start with the why, not the what.
The purpose of Post-it notes in Agile working.
- Post-it notes support granular thinking. Which is the equivalent of looking at the grains of sand on a beach or to coin a phrase, looking at the wood rather than the trees. Breaking things into their constituent parts is a very important part of being Agile.
- Post-it notes enable granular thinking to be used strategically. Which is the equivalent of admiring the beach rather than the grains of sand. It enjoying the trees. Seeing the big picture is a very important part of being Agile.
- Post-it notes enable the sorting and re-organisation of ideas and tasks at a granular level. Being able to think both strategically and at a granular level is at the heart of being Agile.
- Post-it notes enable the visual mapping of ideas. Visual thinking is a very important part of being Agile.
- Post-it notes enable the organisation and sorting of tasks at a granular level, so that the big picture objective actually gets built. Shipping on time is a very important part of being agile.
- Post-it notes enable collaborative thinking, both for being organised and for building that big picture. Collaboration is a very important part of being agile.
- Post-it notes enable discussion and debate. Socratic thinking is a very important part of being agile.
- Post-it notes enable iteration of ideas. It is really easy to remove or amend one Post-it note without needing to replace the whole big picture. Being iterative is a very important part of being agile.
When you visit an office, don’t be impressed by their Post-it notes, look at what’s written on them and what thinking they represent.
If you want to introduce Agile working in your organisation, then focus on developing:
- Granular Thinking
- Strategic Thinking
- Visual Thinking
- Skills to make sure you Ship on Time
- Collaborative Working
- Socratic Debate
- Iterative Thinking.
By the way, if you are doing those things, you may well need a small artefact that you can write on, move around yet be confident you can anchor it in place so that it doesn’t get disturbed when you need it to stay put.
Some people use Post-it notes for that, but there’s a way you need to snap them off the block to make sure they stay sticky long enough. So you may like to get some index cards and Blu Tack to create something less transitory.
Think about it….they are actually an inadequate solution to most problems. They have an eloquent storage and dispensing concept and inadequate post use functionality. So much so that people perform bizarre rituals to try to optimise their performance.
Other perfectly effective tools do exist and might improve the Post-it note concept in some cases!
- Trello is widely used to replace Post-it notes for sprint management. It is digital Post-it notes on steroids.
- There are other Post-it note type applications on PC and all manner of similar applications.
That said, its really unlikely that we will easily replace the use of the “note on the fridge” concept. Though I’m a paper and magnet kind of person. When I leave a note, I want it to stay left………