An Agile Memorial

By Brian Lucas

Dedicated to Ed – Friend, Familyman and Hero

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Too often today we fail even if we have the talent, because we think conditions are not perfect or we don’t have all the time or resources[1] that we need.  Perhaps what we really lack is deep motivation[2] and self-reliance[3]Motivation should be so natural and profound, it doesn’t allow room for anything except the vision of accomplishment[4].  Motivation and vision have a reciprocal relationship.  Motivation is the mother of vision.  Vision in turn breeds more motivation.

This is a very different post.  It is about self-reliance and very deep motivation.  A friend of mine recently passed away, his name was Ed[5].  Ed genuinely was the kind of man everyone truly liked.  He was an extremely genial person, who always had a friendly welcome for everyone.  He was also a man of the kind of quiet courage few possess.  He lived life and faced death on his own terms.  If I wrote 100 pages about Ed’s colorful and inspiring life, I couldn’t cover half of it.  I won’t try here.  Instead I want to recount how I and group of Ed’s friends got together in an agile fashion and choose to celebrate our memory of him by offering our support for his best friend Vern.

Vern and Ed were the best of friends since childhood.  They were in Viet Nam together, Ed in the Marines and Vern in the Air Force.  Both Vern and Ed were married and had children.  However their bond of true friendship forged so early and tempered by the war and the struggles one experiences in life, made them inseparable.  When Ed’s wife died, Vern filled a big void in Ed’s life.  I know because Ed told me so.  Now that Ed had passed on, there was a big void in Vern’s life.  I know because Vern told me so.

Though many of us attended Ed’s funeral and a number of us even made the journey down to Arlington cemetery to attend Ed’s burial, it was not enough[6] of a tribute.  After the funeral, a group of us went out to celebrate Ed’s life with a dinner in his memory.  At the dinner[7], I was inspired[8] to propose we should do something for our friend Vern.  Someone suggested[9] that we get Vern a box of cigars.  This suggestion was bettered by making it a box of Ed’s favorite cigars[10].  I proposed that we inscribe a plaque on it.  Another friend, a fellow Marine, said he had a Marine Globe and Anchor Brass belt buckle that maybe we could mount on it[11].  Our resident cigar expert offered to obtain the box.  Another friend offered to fund the purchase of it with a gift card he had been given.  I volunteered to put it all together and get it inscribed[12] as the resident writer in the group.

A couple of days later, the friend who got the box handed it to me.  He had taken the cigars out and was storing them in his humidor until the box was ready for presentation.  This kept the cigars at the correct humidity and temperature[13].  It was a large, beautiful, black box with a gold insignia on the center of the lid and a black velvet lining on the inner lid side, also with a gold insignia.  A day later, the friend with the belt buckle dropped it off for me[14].   Grinding down the back of the buckle was easy.  Getting the tarnish off it was not.  I googled it and found a suggestion to use ketchup and then warm soapy water to remove the tarnish.  The ketchup worked well, but it was hard to get into the intricate declivities of the ornament, so I used a toothbrush[15].

Now came the really hard part.  What to write on the plaque.  I also thought that we could get our names inscribed on perhaps the underside of the box.  I tried various eulogistic approaches and even a few poems.  They all seemed horribly inadequate.  I wanted to go ahead with something I thought would be easy.  I asked for the list of names of those who contributed to this effort to get them inscribed on the bottom of the box.  The list was changing daily.  I got so desperate[16]; I looked at other memorials for examples.  Nothing worked.  I was feeling like I was really letting Ed, Vern and everyone else down.

Finally, in a quiet moment I had an epiphany[17].  This was not about us.  This was about Vern and Ed.  Our names were not important.  We didn’t need an inscription of our names on the bottom.  Vern would know who we were.  This led me to the realization that the one thing that Vern would treasure most was a last word from his best friend.[18]  It had to be something that could remain with him until they met up again in an afterlife.  I decided at this point that I really needed Ed’s help.  So I said a little prayer to him before I went to sleep that night.  In the morning, just before I woke up[19] around 6 AM, I could hear Ed’s chuckling voice talking to Vern.  Gently it found its way into my waking mind.  Once awake I wrote it down quickly lest it escape:

Vern,

You are the best friend of my life. No one else had a better one. Now that I have left you, I am sure you are sad at times. Don’t be! Our parting is only temporary. I am actually with you every day watching over you. I still smile at your open frankness. I still admire your complete honesty[20]. I still look to you to share thoughts and moments that only friends who have seen as much of life as we have can share. I remember all the good and bad times that we both had and how they were so much better because you were and still are my friend. Enjoy these smokes and think of me when you do. They are free where I am now and the dance recitals[21] are nightly. – Ed

I had a brass plaque inscribed with this made at a local trophy shop.  They affixed it to the lid of the box[22].  We planned to present this to Vern at the end of a Cigar Club meeting that Vern attends.

On the day of the presentation, I texted[23] the person who had the cigars.   I reminded him to bring them to the meeting that night.  It was good that I did because he forgot.  He ended up having to run home after work to get them.[24]  We made the presentation.  I simply said to Vern that we had something for him from Ed.  Vern was speechless.  I read the inscription trying not to breakdown with emotion.  I then handed Vern the box and explained to him how it came about.  Vern was still not able to talk.  Finally as I was leaving Vern grabbed my hand and said I could not have given him a better gift.

Many in the group shook my hand and offered me congratulations for the message[25].  The most poignant remark came from a friend who said that the look on Vern’s face was so rewarding that it made him want to do good deeds like this for the rest of his life.  Doing this is a memory I will always cherish, like my friendship with Ed, as brief as it was.  It did not require a lot of planning, effort, management or direction.  We did not wait to be told what to do.  We did not need to have someone lay everything out for us or create a perfect working environment.  No one was the boss.  When difficulties arose, we addressed them as they came.  We adapted.  What we did was share vision, fellowship and be self-reliant.  What we have now is an untarnished memory of two friends and of the great reward[26] of doing something thoughtful for someone else.


[1] I remember years ago listening to a talk given by Ken Blanchard.  In it he was railing against organized little league baseball as being a negative influence on the young.  He felt it taught dependency on having everything laid out for you.  He then lionized the days of his youth when a group of kids got a hold of a ball, a bat, a few gloves and found a field they could play ball in.  At the time, being quite young, I thought his message was over the top and a typical “when I was your age tale” so I tuned it out.

[2] A talent is irrelevant if a person is not motivated to use it. Motivation may be external (for example, social approval) or internal (satisfaction from a job well-done, for instance). External sources tend to be transient, while internal sources tend to produce more consistent performance. From Sternberg, R. (1994). In search of the human mind. New York: Harcourt Brace.

[3] See footnote 1 again and my interview of George Santos where he talks about self-reliance.

[4] This has nothing to do with single minded monomania or greed.

[5] I am using first names to protect people’s privacy.

[6] An important aspect of agile is to not just do what everyone else does, but to go beyond and do more to achieve your vision.  “Different results require different thinking.” From Smith, Rolf. (2007). The 7 Levels of Change, 3rd edition.

[7] Vern was with the family at the time and could not attend the dinner.

[8] Inspiration is the mother of motivation.  Think about it.  If you are inspired work comes easy to you.  It doesn’t even seem like work.  If you need someone to motivate you, work is viewed as labor.  This is why great leaders always inspire people with a vision first and motivate them with money second.

[9] Brainstorming is always an early activity in being agile.  The first idea doesn’t have to be grandiose.  It is just a starting point.  See Brainstorming at Mind Tools.

[10] It was a way of reminiscing the many times Ed handed Vern a cigar.

[11] This is the classic agile process.  It is iterative.  Ideas and improvements flow in from many different sources.  Communication is abundant.

[12] Take heed that people did not need to be assigned work they all volunteered for needed tasks.  Note that even the tasks that needed to be done did not spring from a project plan, but were identified by the individuals of the team.  As in most cases, but not all, the person identifying the need for the task to be done volunteered to do it.

[13] This is an example of empowerment and not micromanaging.  If you give someone a detailed process and task list they will do what is on the list and not think for themselves.  Often processes and procedures in large organizations are fraught with superfluous steps consuming time, resources and money.  Administrative managers often feel they are successful if the process was followed, even if the end results were not achieved. “[H]igh maturity organizations may blindly follow processes when under stress and fail to recognize that a process change may be a more appropriate response.” From the Background to CMMI.

[14] Everyone was working in non-synchronous time as Toffler predicts in his book, Revolutionary Wealth.  I highly recommend reading it, though for most people it is a long read.  Working distributed and asynchronously is an evolving reality in being an agile business.  You will need to learn to work this way and work with both your employees and customers like this.

[15] Learning as you go is crucial to agile success.  I first tried a brass polish it did not work.  I asked the trophy place they suggested I take it to a jeweler.  I called several jewelers and found one willing to clean it, but it would take a couple of days.  So I proceeded on my own initiative.

[16] Agile is not crisis free.  How you deal with crises is the important thing.  Good agile teams are relentless in dealing with problems and roadblocks.  They blow right past or right through issues that would derail other teams.

[17] If you need an epiphany, change your location and activity.  Go out for a walk.  Feed the squirrels and the birds; its old advice, but often works.  The Franklin Institute suggests that brain oxygenation during walking explains why you might feel a brisk walk can “clear your head.” From The Franklin Institute: The Human Brain.

[18] This represented what would have been a major change in a project.  Unlike traditional methods, agile embraces and even encourages change.  See Why Go Agile—Why Should I Embrace Change?

[19] There is also evidence that we can dream in non-REM sleep in the hour or two before waking up, when the brain has become more activated than it was earlier in the night.  From UCSC dream research.net.

[20] Vern is the most incredibly honest man it has ever been my pleasure to meet.

[21] I later found out that this was a code word for ‘bar hopping’ used between Ed and Vern.

[22] Another example of a virtual team member, it is important for agile teams to remember that they do not have to all be collocated or even belong to the same company.  Take advantage of outside resources whenever expertise, price, time or another factor makes sense.

[23] Free flowing communications alerts team members to changing conditions or in this case forces sync points that are critical.

[24] This is where classical project managers have a fit about planning, coordinating and managing.  The fact is that these sorts of issues always crop up in traditionally run projects; despite all the time consuming and costly planning, coordinating and managing.  Just deal with them as they occur.

[25] I decline to take credit here.  I feel the real credit belongs to Ed.  They really are his words in my mind.

[26] The truth is that if you are a heavy command and control manager or executive or work it that type of organization, younger workers are rebelling.  As the economy continues to improve you will see your workforce options diminish as competency leaves your organization for more attractive environments.  See the Happiness Metric – The Wave of the Future

About Brian Lucas

In his life, Brian Lucas has been a coach, farm worker, forester, health care advocate, life guard, general contractor, mechanic, mixologist, musician/singer (in a rock group), salesman and teacher. Brian has worked as a project manager, technical marketer, methodologist, manager, software architect, systems designer, data modeler, business analyst, systems programmer, software developer and creative writer. These efforts include over a hundred hi-tech initiatives in almost every business and industrial sector as well as government and military projects. Among them, he designed and developed a quality assurance system for the first transatlantic fiber optic communications network, a manufacturing system for a large computer manufacture’s seven manufacturing centers, a data mining system for steel production, an instrumentation system for cable systems, defined requirements for government’s information systems and designed and developed human performance management systems. Brian has educated and mentored many over the years, designing programs to discover and develop talent. He has also lectured extensively to a variety of audiences. Brian is currently devoting as much time as possible to the innovation of business agility and human capital management along with the next generation of agile software development. As an amateur theoretical physicist he is working on joining general relativity and quantum mechanics through a multidimensional time corollary on string theory and negating the uncertainty principle with Louis de Broglie’s wave/particle hypothesis. He is also an avid blue-water sailor and wilderness backpacker. He enjoys billiards, boxing, chess, cooking, famous battle reenactments and war gaming, fencing, flying, gardening, horseback riding, martial arts (particularly Ninjutsu), philosophy and psychology, playing musical instruments (7 so far), poker, rapid-fire target shooting, reading (he tries to read a new book every night), painting with oils, scuba diving, skiing and recently writing novels.
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25 Responses to An Agile Memorial

  1. Anthony says:

    Brian,
    It was very touching to watch Vern become speechless and emotionally surprised over the memorial gift. I am sure all, who where there felt the same as I did.. Now getting back to Agile!! This was a great correlation again how Agile thinking and methodology can set, develop and complete any task.Not only in the business world but in everyday living..

  2. Anonymous says:

    That’s a beautiful and touching post, Brian.

    To the technical points in your footnotes, I agree absolutely with your conclusion to #24. I work in a company where, when things go wrong as we execute a task or a plan, people start pointing fingers (despite the note in the annual agreement we sign that we don’t condone a culture of blame), instead of finding the solution. When you get a flat tire, you fix the tire, and worry afterwards why the tire went flat.

  3. Elaine says:

    This so beautiful a story that I cried when I read it. It restores my faith to know that there are people this thoughtful and caring. Some might think that Brian sounds too good to be true. I can tell you from first hand experience that Brian is the most caring, thoughtful and generous person I have ever met. I’ll have to stop there because Brian will be embarrassed. I also need to mention something about agile here or Brian will be disappointed. If you take the time to read the footnotes you will learn a valuable lesson in being agile. I never understood this concept until I had the good fortune to meet Brian. Now it is changing the way I look at my engineering profession and even my life. Saying thank you seems so inadequate.

  4. Bernice Gaylord says:

    I was very moved by this article. I know how Vern feels. I lost my Bill recently after 27 years of the happiest marriage. The emptiness is more than I can take. Even with my children it is unbearable. Reading this made me cry I’ll admit. It also gave me an unexplained hope. I wish my Bill and I had friends as intelligent and thoughtful and sensitive as Mr. Lucas must be. But I take comfort knowing that someone like him is out there. I think it would be a rare privilege to know him. We have friends and good ones and my children are very dear to me even though they are grown and have children of their own. But it would have meant so much to me to have something like Mr. Lucas and his friends did for Vern. I know why Vern said that he couldn’t have been given a greater gift. I guess it was the whole idea of the memorial, simple as it was, and how it became a reality, that touched me so much. I also learned something. I work in purchasing at a Fortune 500 and never understood what I thought were these silly agile projects that the IT department was always running. They were never explained to me in terms I understood and seemed more confusing than the normal process we always followed. I now understand something about what the author calls agile thinking and realize it is a good thing. Mr. Lucas clearly practices what he preaches and I thank him for sharing this very personal story with us.

    • Brian Lucas says:

      Bernice I feel for your loss and wish it were not so or that there was something that I could say or do to make your pain go away. So many in life never achieve the little bit of heaven on earth that you and Bill made for each other for 27 years. You have both children and grand children that need your love and your wisdom. Every day you have with them is something special and needs to be cherished. While your pain is deep now and will not go away entirely, I promise it will lessen and become more bearable as you spend time with your family and friends. I envy the happiness you have known and my thoughts go with you. To leave you with a lighter thought; I thank you for the kind words about my practicing agile thinking and I am very gratified that this post has helped you gain a better understanding about agile. Now that you understand it, you can explain it to your IT department! I am sure Bill will be smiling as you do!

  5. Frank Bailey says:

    I don’t agree that management is as much at fault for business problems today as you sometimes imply. I will say that your posts always have merrit. This post and the actions it recounts were very well done. I agree completely. You can be justly proud of both. Semper Fi

  6. Patrick Rigsby says:

    This is a very apt example of agile thinking in real life. I never thought of agile outside of our software development efforts. This was an eye opener. If we all think about agile all the time it will make us better practioners. Thank you Brian for sharing this with us.

  7. John Becker, Rev. says:

    I am having difficulty finding words to say other than you have my utmost admiration and respect Mr. Lucas for your intelligence, writing ability and humanity. Reverend Becker

  8. Janey Haverson says:

    A friend of mine sent me this. I never would have suspected that I could learn so much about being agile from an article about creating a memorial tribute. I think you are positively brilliant in stating that motivation is the key. I was not motivated in my company’s recent attempt at agile. If our the computer techs had explained this new project process in this way I would have understood it better, instead we got of scrums, scrum masters, sprint and velocity. I thought it all was quite a bit silly. Seriously Brian, this was so touching and left me with such a warm feeling, that I find myself wishing I could have been a part of this even though I don’t know you, Ed or your friend Vern. I am going to read the rest you your blog. Are you on Facebook?

  9. Philip Gilles says:

    How someone is able to write something that is this warm and yet professional is beyond me. I cannot imagine anyone reading this article and not being moved by the care, sensitivity and thoughtfulness Mr. Lucas shows his friends, that is a very precious thing. What makes this almost unbelievable is how much he is able to teach with this simple example. The many footnotes instruct us in the specifics of this topic on agile that he writes about. They have the references to sources with more information as one would expect of a professional. But the story is so removed from the kind of thing I normally read about agile software development; I am at a loss to characterize it. It is human interest, morality, philosophy, logic, method, religion, etc, all rolled into one. I have browsed your blog before Brian and note the huge number of comments your receive. Others have asked you to post more. I am telling you flat out that if you can tell a story like this – IT IS YOUR DUTY TO WRITE MORE!

  10. T. Garner says:

    As a former marine all I can say Brian is semper fi. You have proven to be a faithful friend to both Ed and Vern!

  11. D. Jones says:

    Improvise, adapt, overcome! We marines have been “agile” for years. From your story, it sounds like you would have been a good grunt. semper fi!

  12. Mike Mc Cafferty says:

    This shows respect and appreciation for a pair of warriors who served their country. Well done Brian! Semper fi! -Big Mike

  13. Charlie "Casey" Jones says:

    I am guessing you never served Brian, but I would have been proud to serve with you. Honoring Ed and Vern you honor us all – semper fi!

    • Brian Lucas says:

      Casey I am honored! It was my privilege to know Big Ed and to know Vern. Stop by if your in the neighborhood and we’ll split a bottle of bourbon and smoke some cigars.

  14. Dan Jones, USMC Ret says:

    It is very meaningful to those of us who served to find others that truly appreciate it and really know what duty, honor and friendship mean! You are a rare breed Brian. Semper Fi!

  15. Chester "Chet" Brown says:

    Good tribute Brian! Thanks for remembering all of us for when you honor one you honor all. Chet USMC Ret.

  16. RedHairedGirl says:

    This was so touching Brian you are a wonderful person!

  17. FTHedge says:

    This story meant a lot to me as I am sure that it did to Vern …and Ed! Thank you for honoring a fellow marine! Semper Fi Brian!

  18. OlivioS says:

    This is a most touching story. You have honored us all by sharing it Brian.

  19. Stephanie Hancock says:

    This was a very tearful, joyful example of sensitivity and consideration and being truly concerned with others. I like many others who have read this, wish I had a friend like you Brian! You are a very rare person. You are obviously highly intelligent and yet your empathy for others is so very evident in all that you write. I did learn a lesson about being agile here. But, it was the lesson about putting your grief aside to comfort others I think was more valuable. Thank you for the wisdom you share with us! Steph

  20. Rev. Johnathan Goodly says:

    Dear Mr. Lucas,

    A member of my congregation sent this to me as part of an assignment I gave during last Sunday’s services of finding thoughtfulness and good in the world in an unusual place. I know nothing about keeping agile, but I know the man who wrote this story is a credit to mankind! It is both thoughtful and good and shows an act of love for a fellow human being such as Jesus would commend us to do. May the Lord bless you Brian!

    Sincerely,
    Rev. Johnathan Goodly

  21. Elizabeth Blake says:

    Hi Brian! I was looking for more information on implementing agile in a new company when I ran across your blog. How I got to this post I am not sure. My head was spinning with so many noise about how to implement agile. I read your post just because the title was different. I was so touched by your thoughtfulness and the sensitivity you showed. I read two other posts and was totally impressed with the scope of your knowledge and experience. You look at things so differently from everyone else! Are you on Facebook? I would like to connect with you? Beth

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