5 Ways “Going Agile” Changed My Life

by September 13, 2018

I am what you could consider an “Agile Noob,” as my colleague Steven Black puts it. I joined CA Technologies in mid-June with zero knowledge of what Agile meant (and zero knowledge of what I was missing). Ironically enough, I ended up being placed on the Agile management team.

Living and breathing Agile each day, I still didn’t fully understand the concept. I couldn’t tell you exactly when the shift occurred, but one day I was no longer nodding and smiling as everyone around me embraced Agility. I was seeing how the work I was already doing fit into the Agile culture.

There are so many ways Agility has impacted my life, but I’ve narrowed it down to 5 major concepts:

1. Less Work and More Outcomes

I would label myself a productive person. I start each day with a to-do list and check them off as I go. I used to believe productivity was simply checking off as many tasks as possible. As I started to embrace Agility, I’ve realized that sometimes doing less leads to more.

Businesses (and individuals alike) often focus on output as a way to measure productivity. I used to find myself saying things like, “I completed all 15 items on my to-do list, so it must have been a productive day.” Yes, output is a strong metric for productivity, but increased output doesn’t always lead to desired outcomes. Output doesn’t always align to the overarching goals we have for ourselves and for our business. Shifting to an outcome-oriented culture changed everything I knew about completing tasks.

If you’re unsure if something is output or outcome-oriented, ask yourself:

  • Is the work I’m doing contributing to the overall project goal?
  • Am I creating dependencies by working on individual tasks at my own pace, rather than working toward continuous delivery?
  • Am I focused on the quantity of tasks completed instead of working toward project completion?

2. Planning Leads to Doing

Do you ever finish a meeting with more questions than answers? I think we’ve all been there. Big ideas are tossed around, tasks are assigned, goals are set, everyone is feeling good, and then you hang up the call only to realize you need to have another meeting about this meeting.

I can’t be the only one who notices discrepancies in the number of meetings held and the amount of work being completed. If we aren’t careful, we end up spending all of our time talking about what we need to do without leaving ourselves enough time to actually do the work.

Bringing the concept of Agility into meeting environments will free up space on your calendar and increase productivity for the entire team.

I’m going to tell you right now to forget everything you know about meetings. Most of all, forget the term “stand-up.” Forget what you think they are, forget what you’ve used them for in the past, forget it all.

Once you’ve eliminated those concepts from your long-term memory, consider these not-so-new but improved forms of collaboration that changed my entire world forever:

  • Working meeting: 30 min – 1 hour. You and another individual or your team actively work together on a project or task. Schedule these only as needed.
  • Stand-up: 30 min or less. High-level updates with your project team to answer the following: what did I work on yesterday, what am I doing today, and what will I work on tomorrow? Do I have any blockers?
  • Team meeting: 1 hour. Similar to a stand-up, but larger in scale. Team meetings are a great time to update your full team or business unit on high-level items and blockers.

How can you incorporate these concepts within your organizational culture to ensure efficient planning?

3. Individual and Cross-Agile-Team Accountability

Think of an organization as a giant web. Picture the teams as big dots, and the team members as medium dots, and individual projects as small dots. The small dots connect with the medium dots which tie to the big dots to create departments, but the links don’t stop there. Each department is intertwined in one way or another. Sales to Marketing, Marketing to the Product Team, the Product Team to Engineers, and so on. In essence, an organization is one big tangled web of people, projects, and tasks.

How is everyone held accountable for the work they are (or aren’t) doing to contribute to the overall business objectives?

This is where Business Agility comes into play. Now picture that big tangled web again but imagine if you could map it out into an easy-to-read board that tracks projects all the way up to the key business initiatives and all the way down to the individual task-level.

As an individual, I know exactly what tasks I need to complete. Additionally, my team knows what tasks I’m responsible for, and vice versa. If I’m slacking on a project, my team can see that. This creates a unique sense of accountability that allows projects to be completed efficiently and effectively across the board.

Leading into my next point, with Agile Central I can easily see into the work that others are doing and how it’s directly related to my own work.

4. Visibility into Projects from Start to Finish

Something I find increasingly important as I navigate the corporate world is understanding the work being done by those around me. Before I was introduced to Agile practices, it was hard to decipher who owned certain projects or tasks and what their completion status was. It was difficult to find answers to very basic questions because I had to throw myself into that big tangled web to find answers.

Each agile team strives for maximum visibility from the beginning of a project all the way through to the end. Team members understand their tasks and can easily identify the tasks of others. I started to acknowledge the different “undefined” roles of my teammates. It’s clear who I need to go to with specific questions. I know who I’m waiting on in order to complete my next task, and who is waiting on me. This allows me to work more efficiently and spend more time creating outcomes.

5. Knowing What I do Matters

A recent study shows only 40% of those surveyed knew their company’s goals and strategies.1 If you’re putting in 40+ hours a week and you don’t know how your work contributes to the company’s overarching goals, how do you know you aren’t completely wasting your time? More importantly, how do you know what you should be doing to contribute to those key business objectives? The simple answer is: You don’t.

A year ago, I would consider myself part of that 40%. My previous company didn’t focus on communicating goals and strategy to its employees and I found myself undervaluing my work and my purpose there.

Now if you were to ask me what I was working on and how it tied to a project and how that project tied to a strategy, I could happily answer with a 30-second pitch. I know with confidence that what I do on a daily basis is helping my business succeed.

Beginning my Agile journey has changed my life dramatically. I’m more productive, communication is easier, and I find value in the work I’m doing. I’m no expert by any means, but I can already see a difference. I’m at somewhat of an advantage as I live and breathe Agile every day. I work alongside Agile experts who have shared insights and best practices with me to help me get to where I am. If you have questions about becoming Agile, reach out in the comments below. Happy Agile-ing!

1https://www.themuse.com/advice/10-shocking-stats-about-employee-engagement

 

About the author:

Hailey Stephenson is a marketing enthusiast with a passion for learning new things and creative problem-solving. Hailey recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2017 with a degree in Marketing Strategy. She is a CA Technologies Marketing Rotation Associate currently working with the Agile Management team for one of her three 8-month iterations. Hailey hopes to share her thoughts and findings with others so that they might learn from her experiences and find solutions to pressing problems. Hailey can be reached at hailey.stephenson@ca.com.

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