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Recently we visited NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam. This a very nice museum full of all kinds of experiments. The visitors, mainly kids, can perform these experiments themselves, so they learn a lot about different topics, like space, electricity, water purifying, chemistry, technology, etc.
Every hour there is a show called Chain Reaction. This show is mostly about kinetic energy and it’s fun to watch for all ages.

What I’ve noticed about this show is the specific attention to potential energy.

In physics, potential energy is the energy held by an object due to its position relative to other objects, stresses within itself, its electric charge, or other factors.
In the case of a bow and arrow, when the archer does work on the bow, drawing the string back, some of the chemical energy of the archer's body is transformed into elastic potential energy in the bent limb of the bow. When the string is released, the force between the string and the arrow does work on the arrow. The potential energy in the bow limbs is transformed into the kinetic energy of the arrow as it takes flight.

Source: Wikipedia

Basically, potential energy means something that is held by an object and is released by a cause. This cause triggers an event which transforms the potential energy into a different form of energy.

In the Chain Reaction show, there are more than twenty objects which all have potential energy. A kid is invited to be the ‘cause’. He or she is even wearing a safety helmet, that says CAUSE. After the introduction, the kid knocks over a domino and the ‘cause’ is triggered. The chain reaction is now started. The domino hits the next object and this object hits another, and so on. The potential energy in the objects is transformed into other forms of energy, mostly kinetic and gravitational energy.

This potential energy makes me think of personal qualities and character traits of individuals. People are full of potential energy! Not the scientific energy, I described above, but more on a personal level.
When there is the right ‘cause’, this energy is transformed into something creative.
In an Agile environment, this potential energy could be released into artefacts like backlog and backlog items, mock-ups, working software, documentation, etc. But also, in collaboration, performing workshops, listening to one another, asking questions, etc.

So, when there is the necessary cause and event, you can make this potential energy worthwhile.

What could be the ‘cause’ in a software development environment?

I immediately think of the Product Owner.
When the Product Owner is providing a clear vision and goals for the product, sharing the problems, writing spot-on backlog items, using data to support hypotheses, and so on, the team can consider this as a cause to release their energy into creativity to solve the problems the business is facing and create the best possible solution.
Good stakeholder management can act like a cause and results in the desired cooperation together with the business and clients. And the PO’s relationship with leadership people also thrives on the right cause from the Product Owner.

Leaders, in turn, can act like causes, by providing the desired environment for teams in which to work.

This personal potential energy can also be suppressed, unfortunately.
Suppression, in all forms, holds back the release of potential energy of the team members. Due to suppression, there will never be the good circumstances in which we operate the best.

In the NEMO show, suppression would result in the malfunction of the chain reaction. And this could result in disappointment of the visitors a.k.a. clients.

As a professional, you can use this potential energy phenomenon in your everyday work. When you think in terms of cause and effect, you’ll perhaps understand the outcomes of your team better. If your ’causes’ are of high quality, the released energy will be better and this becomes evident in the software and satisfaction of the clients and users.

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