I Went to a Remote Cabin to Hunt Deer and All I Found Was Agile

VP of People, Opreto

5 minute read

I was stunned to realize my father in law, a man in his 70s, is a practitioner of Agile. I found this out at Deer Camp, the remote off-the-grid cabin in the thick woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where the men of my wife’s family gather every year to hunt deer. I went there with the expectation of a digital cleansing of some kind, I think, or some grand hermitage away from civilization. But instead I found reinforcement for everything we do in my high tech job @Opreto, and realized during my time there that our hunting cabin uses good Agile practices. It seems clear to me now that something I thought of as modern is actually quite old, and that an “agile team” approach to deer hunting is as natural as an agile approach to software development, although there are arguably fewer websites disclaiming this fact to hunters than those proliferating on blogs about software development. This realization felt like a bit of a shock when it first occurred, but really it is part of the hunt that lives inside all of us, after all. It represents a highly evolved way of dividing and conquering complex and evasive problems, and so of course has been part of our collective answer for literal ages.

When the men first gather at Camp at the outset of deer season, having driven the(ir trucks) 8 hours to reach a remote cabin in the woods, we start the generator that provides all the power, and begin to prepare the accomodations and secure the food (and beer) stores for the coming weeks. Fires are lit, beds are claimed, and everyone settles in. We are not a purposefully gendered crew, but no females in our particular family seem willing to engage with the primitive facilities available there, although our closest neighbours up there, and the hosts for our nightly gatherings, are a mixed gender band with some of the largest trophies held by the matriarch of that group.

Every morning we rouse before dawn, and work together to prepare breakfast, sharing the duties equally among us according to talent and workload. Everyone is responsible for their own cutlery and mugs, cleaning of cooking surfaces is shared. One person prepares sandwiches to be carried in the pocket of the bulky and warm wool coats we all wear, along with an apple and a ration of water. Before the sun comes up, we set out to find sign of deer and hopefully track one down. We do not hunt in groups, but split up the territory and the deer, one to each man.

On our software teams @Opreto, each software developer maintains their own kit, too. They are responsible for their own digital hygiene, and their local workflows and work habits, so long as they meaningfully contribute to the shared processes that define the project. It is both a set of strongly individual people with their own way of going about things, and an organic, self-organizing collective of citizens taking responsibility for parts of the collective execution of a shared project.

Up north, that project is to quarter the local forest and remove any male deer. In our software work, the project is to quarter the software application and remove any deficiencies. In each, we split up the larger task and self-assign the appropriate amount of achievable work for each individual according to ther suitability and skills, and to a certain extent their inclination. An integral part of the Planning Poker ceremony in Agile Software Development is assigning story points or estimating the effort required for each task. Just like up north, where the team divides the forest into manageable sections, in Agile planning, the team breaks down the software application into user stories or tasks. Each team member then takes on the level of effort or complexity they judge themselves suitable for. It’s a strategic and collaborative approach, ensuring that the workload is distributed based on individual skills and capacity, and that there are no unnecessary overlaps of effort.

In the rugged terrain up north, our day begins with a pre-dawn assembly, over breakfast, to discuss where each of us will be that day, and how we think it should (and/or) will go. Back in the real world, we do a similar thing with our agile software development teams when we hold a morning stand-up meeting. It’s a chance for the team to sync up, discuss plans for the day, and address any potential roadblocks. Just like the breakfast gatherings up north, it sets the tone for a coordinated and effective day ahead.

At Deer Camp, after a day of tramping (quietly, slowly, absolutely no naps are taken in peaceful forest settings) around the woods, when the sky begins to darken and the temperature drops with the sun, we each make our way back to the cabin. The first one to return puts fresh wood in the fireplace and begins to collect the food and drink required for the nightly meeting. As each hunter returns, they begin to assist and to meditate on the trials and tribulations from that day, as they change out of wet woolens into civvies. Once everyone has gathered, we have a warm and cozy debrief full of laughter and good food. We discuss the day and the problems we faced; the victories we had; the signs we saw of where the deer may be tomorrow. We discuss challenges and causality, and tracking down evasive things. Back in the real world of software development, we do a similar thing with our software development teams by having a retrospective or debrief meeting. It’s a reflective session where the team comes together to discuss the day’s work, challenges faced, and successes achieved. It’s not just about problem-solving but also recognizing and celebrating achievements, much like sharing stories around the cabin fireplace. It creates a positive and collaborative atmosphere, fostering continuous improvement for the next day’s “hunt” in the world of software development.

So, whether we’re wandering through the woods or diving into software projects, we’ve got this quartering thing down, and its an essential part of Agile. Break complex objectives into chunks, play to everyone’s strengths, and keep it synced. Our morning software huddles, just like those breakfast meetings up north, set the vibe for a successful day. And when the sun dips, it’s not just about a cozy cabin and a roaring fire, but also hashing out the highs and lows. In the world of code, we do the same. It’s not rocket science; it’s just good old-fashioned teamwork, laughter, group collaboration, and the constant quest to do better tomorrow than we did today.