My Dad... The Agile Coach?!?

Episode 39 - 08 Jun 2016

My dad was a DIY genius. What he didn't know about woodworking wasn't worth knowing.

But Agile? He knew nothing about Agile.

Or did he?

It's the classic DIY challenge: hanging a shelf. Sounds so simple, so straightforward. But it's not as easy as it looks.

Join me as my 19 year-old self takes on the Master in a battle of youthful exuberance vs. experience.

Prepare to be shocked and amazed as Waterfall and Agile emerge from the brick dust.

Grab your FREE Waterfall vs Agile Cheat Sheet

Chef Gordon Ramsey's Omelette Test has the dual merits of:

  1. sounding easy, and
  2. being not easy at all.

An equivalent test for the DIY world is hanging a shelf.

So that's what we're going to have a crack at today.

Here's the shelf... and here's the wall.

I'm going to hang it twice: once using a method that made sense to my 19 year-old self; then I'm going to hang it again, using the method my dad taught me.

It sounds mundane, but what it can teach you about Agile may just blow your mind!

Amateur Hour

The shelf is to be positioned so that its "top Middle". On this mark.

Here's a more technical view of the shelf, showing the 4 screw holes.

I'm going to start my taking a couple of measurements.

  • Distance between the screw holes horizontally
  • Distance from the top to the top screw hole
  • Distance between the screw holes vertically.

Now to transfer the dimensions to the wall.

I'll use a spirit level to draw a perfectly horizontal line through the centre mark.

Now measure HALF the distance between the screw holes, in both directions.

Spirit level again for two vertical lines.

Measure down from the top.

Then again for the vertical distance between the screw holes.

Repeat for the other side.

Next, it's time for a spot of drilling:

  • Two holes for the left side
  • Two for the right side.

In with the wall plugs.

Offer up the shelf

In with the first screw, in with the second...

Oh dear.

Perhaps I measured incorrectly?

Perhaps I made a mistake when I transferred the measurements to the wall?

Maybe it was the drilling? The walls in my house are more than 100 years old: it's hard to be accurate.

Chances are that each of the holes is a bit off.

And Murphy's Law dictates that they won't all be off by the same amount in the same direction.

No, Murphy will see to it that they are off in distance and direction such as to maximise my displeasure!

Even if a do manage to to shoe-horn all four screws in...

I would be surprised if...

No. It's not level.

What did we just do?

I'll bring my dad in a second.

Before I do, here's a list of the steps I just went through

  • I measured the shelf
  • Transferred the measurement to the wall
  • drilled the holes
  • fitted the wall plugs
  • Fitted - or attempted to fit - the screws.
  • Then - and only then - a final check for level.

Is is just me, or does this looks a tiny tiny bit... Waterfall?


Leave it to the Professional

Let's move on to look at my dad's method.

It's only fair to warn you that my dad had a super-power when it comes to DIY projects: he was better than anyone I've known at spotting the ONE thing that is important in any project.

For this project, it would take him a millisecond to realise that the ONE thing that's important is that the shelf be level.

Oh... and he was pretty good at NOT measuring. Keep an eye out for how often he DOESN'T measure.

First step... mark the of the middle of the shelf. (He'd do this without any form or rule or tape measure, believe it or not.)

And then he was off:

  • Shelf onto the wall.
  • Align the marks.
  • Check for level with the spirit level. Perfectly flat.
  • Mark the position of ONE hole.
  • Drill the hole.
  • Wall plug in.
  • Offer up the shelf.
  • Screw in the screw. But not tight.
  • Check for level.
  • Adjust the shelf until it's flat.
  • Hold in place.
  • Mark position top hole on the right hand side.
  • Rotate the shelf.
  • Drill the second hole.
  • Press in the wall plug.
  • Rotate the shelf and screw in the second screw.
  • Tighten both screws.
  • Check for level.
  • Not quite right? Loosen the screws. Gentle tap. (My dad called this "offering encouragement".)
  • Check for level.
  • Tighten both screws.
  • Check for level.

From here on it's all downhill:

  • Mark the positions of the last two screws.
  • Off with the shelf
  • Drill the holes
  • in with the plugs
  • Back in with the top two screws.
  • Check for level... and offer encouragement as necessary
  • Tighten the screws
  • Check for level.
  • in with the bottom two screws.
  • Check for level one final time (at this point, a formality).

Spot on.

Nice one, dad.


If I show you all the steps, it's quite clear that there are a lot of them.

There was very little in the way of mass production.

(The last two screws were handled together... but other than that, nothing.)

If a I squish up the tasks, I think you'll notice something interesting.

There's a pattern: a bit of work, followed by a check for level. Repeated again and again.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this looks... just a little bit... Agile.

To me, this is nothing short of a revelation:

  • My natural inclination - as a 19 year old rank amateur - was to hang the self using a WATERFALL PROCESS
  • My dad's natural inclination - as a craftsman with 60+ years experience - was to hang the shelf using an AGILE PROCESS

Mind. Blown.

Where did I go wrong?

I'm tempted to leave it there.

But first shelf - the fitted-by-Waterfall shelf - is still wonky.

Clearly, something went wrong.

I know I screwed up... But I don't know where.

Did I go wrong measuring the shelf?

Did i go wrong with marking out?

Did I go wrong drilling the holes?

No idea.

This puts me in the uncomfortable position of having to do better... without knowing where to be better.

Contrast that with my dad's process.

If at any point the "check for level" fails, it's obvious what has gone wrong.

It's clear what has to be re-done.

And it's a small amount of work that has to be re-done.

Watch "My Dad... The Agile Coach?!?" on YouTube.