Introducing Agile Into Your Life
Agile development frameworks and tools, based on the Agile Manifesto, are designed to facilitate the collaborative and iterative development of meaningful software solutions. These tools provide a way for teams to; simplify complex goals, map out relevant tasks, see potential roadblocks, and identify what’s needed to be done next. Their adoption has played a major role in the success of the software industry.
However it is important to understand that using these tools is not the same as being agile, and applying them within business teams can in some cases actually reduce effectiveness. While there can be several reasons for this, the fact that many teams are unfamiliar working with agile is a major one. Nevertheless if you are interested in exploring the potential of agile, below we have outlined 3 agile tools that you can implement for yourself, at work, or at home, to help you achieve your goals.
Example of a personal goal matrix. How much money and time you spend on things versus how important you feel they are. This is subjective, so create your own matrix. (P2)
Identify Your Goals – Matrix Tasks
The first task in any agile process is to envision what your goals as projects, and outline a list of activities that need to be done to complete them. The common challenge here is that you generally have many goals with little insight as to how to accomplish them. Don’t worry, this is to be expected.
List down the first few activities that you know you need to start on to achieve each of these goals. It is important that these activities have clearly defined end points and can be accomplished within a couple of weeks. For example, you may want to learn a new skill, redesign your living room, buy a car, and improve your relationships.
Your initial list of activities for learning a new skill could include; researching available courses, creating a comparison table of these courses, discussing options with family and friends, allocating the necessary cost from your earnings, and freeing up time on the required days.
Breaking down each of these goals into lists of smaller tasks will help to make some of your bigger goals seem reachable, and give you an idea of the amount of effort you would need to put in on a weekly basis to accomplish them. Don’t let that scare you. You probably will not have enough time to achieve all of them right now, which is exactly why you need to prioritize.
One way to determine the importance of these goals, and prioritize them is by using a simple matrix graph as shown in the diagram at the top of this section. The y-axis indicates importance, and the x-axis the cost (time or money). This way you end up with your goals grouped clearly in 4 quadrants; ‘High Importance & Low Cost,’ ‘High Importance & High Cost,’ ‘Low Importance & Low Cost,’ and ‘Low Importance & High Cost.’ (1)
The key to consistency is keeping it as simple as possible (P3)
Visualize Your Progress – Kanban Boards
Once you have a list of the activities you need to do to fulfill your goals, an easy way to visualize your progress towards them is by using a Kanban board. Kanban boards group activities into simple columns. The one above uses the columns; ‘To Do,’ ‘Doing,’ and ‘Done'. The number of columns can also be expanded to cover the different phases each activity needs to go through to be completed. This is an easy way to keep tabs on what is yet to be started, what is in progress, and what has been completed, while also clearly highlighting which tasks are stuck.
Kanban was inspired by the Toyota lean manufacturing production system in the 1940s. It is currently used by many software teams to keep track of tasks classified as “work-in-progress” (WIP). These boards used to be physical ones with magnets and sticky notes. Now, there are online Kanban boards available, but many teams and individuals still prefer using physical boards placed in a prominent location. (2)
Maintaining a Kanban board is a commitment. Updating the board itself can feel like an additional task before you get used to it. Also if at the beginning you don’t properly define your tasks with clear end points, it will be difficult to move them to the ‘Done’ column, which can be demotivating. A board that is not updated in a while can itself be a deterrent to achieving your goals. To avoid this it is important to not take failure as a disappointment but as an opportunity to understand the factors preventing you from succeeding.
Take a positive but critical approach when reflecting (P4)
Stick With It – Plus/Delta Reflections
While it is challenging to identify the goals you would like to achieve and the tasks needed to accomplish them, accomplishing them is significantly more difficult. Failing is part of the process and it is important that this does not deter you from being consistent in your efforts.
The Plus/Delta Reflection Technique provides you with a good way to reflect on your performance and learn. At the end of every day, note down the tasks that you finished under two columns: the ‘plus’ column; which contains a list of the tasks that went well, and the ‘delta’ column; which notes the tasks that, on hindsight, could have been done better. Instead of taking a plus and minus approach, the Plus/Delta Reflection Technique is brilliant as it gives you perspective, and prevents you from being negative while still being critical.
Again it is important to remember that these techniques and tools can only assist you in the journey towards achieving your goals. The journey still needs to be made and, especially in the case of personal goals, it can only be made by you.