Using Agile principles for personal growth
Set an intention at the beginning of every new journey to focus on the skills and relationships you can get out of the experience.
One reason many of us hesitate to start a new project or learn a new skill is that we’re not sure it will be worth our time in the end. If we don’t accomplish our goal, or receive the payoff we imagined, will it be a waste of time? Thankfully, there’s a pragmatic, fool-proof way around this: Make sure it’s not.
I heard some great advice on this topic from a new Tim Ferris podcast episode: Whatever project you set out to tackle, whether it’s a new business venture or a career change, make sure at the outset that you’ll develop two things along the way, even if you don’t succeed the way you’d imagined: 1) valuable skills and 2) valuable relationships.
When you look a little closer at many of today’s top skills, like product development or digital marketing, you start to see the peripheral benefits that surround the skill itself—almost as a byproduct of developing that skill. Learn a foreign language and discover you can work for yourself as a translator. Use your coding knowledge to make a social impact by promoting gender equality in schools. Study design and build a network of contacts who can help you balance your tech prowess with your affinity for the arts, whether you remain a designer or not.
Set an intention at the beginning of every new journey to focus on the skills and relationships you can get out of the experience.
One highly marketable skill with many of these peripheral benefits is Agile leadership and management. You’ve probably heard of Agile in terms of software development, but Agile is a mindset. We can use it for personal as well as professional development. The principles you pick up in an Agile course—including Scrum, Lean leadership, and Kanban theory—are not only work methods but processes for life.
Here’s how Agile can benefit you in ways you might not expect.
Agile values and principles applied to personal growth
First, let’s look at the four values of Agile:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
In terms of personal growth, here’s what you’ll learn:
- How to stay human-oriented in a tech-leaning world
- How to act more decisively without excessive planning
- How to ask for and give feedback on a regular basis
- How to reframe change and discomfort as growth
Agile development also follows twelve principles in addition to its four values.
Its first principle, and highest priority, is “satisfying the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” While this may seem like a customer service issue on the surface, it’s really a much deeper and more universally valued capability: by studying this principle, you’re learning how to build mutual trust between yourself and another person.
Similarly, the eighth principle, “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation,” is relevant to our personal lives as well. We could all stand to meet people for coffee a little more often than e-mailing or texting them, but oftentimes we’re not sure when or how the situation calls for it. Agile focuses on developing that skill.
All twelve principles are highly useful in this way when it comes to personal growth. So are the processes and activities related to Agile management, which we’ll look at below.
Scrum is a framework for managing complex projects, and you can use it to manage your time, goals, and relationships:
- Use a flexible, holistic strategy where you work with others toward a common goal as opposed to a “traditional, sequential approach.” This means involving others in your journey and being willing to let go of a linear idea of progress. Sometimes things get worse before they get better or move laterally before they move upward.
- Accept that some problems cannot be fully understood or defined. Focus instead on responding effectively to what you can define and understand.
- Accept that people are unpredictable too. The people around you might change their minds about what they want and need, and you can learn to adapt quickly.
Draw on the Scrum values of courage, focus, commitment, respect, and openness to help you navigate each situation.
2. Stand-up meetings
A stand-up meeting (or simply “stand-up”) is a short daily meeting where team members share status updates, provide feedback, and suggest solutions to current problems.
Hold a daily stand-up meeting with yourself and answer the following three questions:
- What did I accomplish yesterday?
- What will I do today?
- What obstacles are impeding my progress?
3. Paired practice
In software development, Pair Programming is a technique in which two programmers work together at one workstation. One person (the driver) writes code while the other (the observer) reviews each line of code as it is typed in. The two programmers switch roles frequently.
Pair up with a buddy and work on your project together. If you’re a writer, find another writer with a keen editorial eye and meet up for a session where you alternate writing and editing each other’s work. If you’re into yoga, ask a partner to observe your routine and offer feedback, then do the same for them.
4. Test-driven development
Test-driven development (TDD) is a software development process designed to discover what works (or doesn’t) as soon as possible. The developer writes a test to measure the functionality of their code before they’re finished with the code itself. That way, they can keep testing and adjusting the code as they write it. The point is to not waste time finishing something if it’s built on a shaky foundation.
This is not the way we typically think of personal development. When we adopt a new wellness practice, for example, we rarely create a reliable way of measuring how well it’s working. Asking ourselves, “Do I feel better?” without controlling for multiple variables or deciding beforehand what “better” should mean for us is like a developer asking, “Is this good code?” without knowing whether the form matches the function.
Have respect for your own energy and time. Decide how you want to feel, grow, and “function” before you adopt (and especially pay for) practices that promise enhanced well-being. Run your test as you try new things.
A Sprint is a “time-boxed” session, usually a week long but sometimes as short as a day or as long as a month, where you set out to accomplish a specific project or task. Once one Sprint ends, the next one begins. Instead of traditional deadlines and open-ended resolutions, create a Sprint for yourself that lasts a day, a week, or a month. Do a language learning Sprint for one week or a fitness Sprint for one month. Keeping your training sessions short and intense will help you stay motivated as you’ll have a concrete deadline to meet and can regularly celebrate your progress. The brain also likes to refresh itself with a new stimulus now and then, so Sprints are ideal for keeping interest levels high.
6. Lean theory
Lean theory, a close cousin of Agile, is about continuous improvement. It prioritises efficient use of resources: eliminating waste, amplifying learning, deciding at the last moment, delivering as fast as possible, empowering the team, building integrity in, and optimising the whole.
Especially useful for personal development is the notion of eliminating waste. If something in your life isn’t contributing to your wellness and growth, get rid of it. Eliminate things that result in unnecessarily complex solutions, extraneous cognitive overload, psychological distress, knowledge loss, or ineffective communication. Focus on what drives you forward or sustains your performance.
Designed to maximise workflow, Kanban is a visual task management strategy. You can create a Kanban board, cards, and work-in-progress (WIP) limit for your personal goals as well. As all humans are visual learners, with visual processing taking up a third of the cortex (compared to just eight percent for touch and 3 percent for hearing), it follows that anything we want to remember, accomplish, or change is best reinforced visually.
- Kanban board: Create a visual chart with post-it notes where you categorise what is backlogged, what is on the schedule for today, what you are currently doing, what is blocked, and what is done.
- Kanban cards: These are the digital cards or post-it notes that go on your board and visually track your progress and flow. Once you’ve moved all cards to the “done” category, you have visual assurance that you’ve reached your goals.
- Work-in-progress limit: Set a maximum number of tasks or amount of effort for each category on your Kanban board. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too many things in your “currently doing” or “today” sections.
Agile principles for self-management
You can also apply the following Agile management principles for self-management:
1. Strategy under uncertainty
Pioneered by Hugh G. Courtney, Jane Kirkland, and S. Patrick Viguerie, strategy under uncertainty is an approach for developing adaptability and dealing quickly with change. It means doing the following:
- Anticipating and reacting to the nature and speed of change
- Acting decisively without always having a clear direction and certainty
- Navigating through complexity, chaos, and confusion
- Maintaining effectiveness despite constant surprises and a lack of predictability
Wouldn’t we all like a bit more of these things in our personal, let alone professional, lives? There are a few ways to transform yourself into someone who can strategise under uncertainty:
- Reactive to creative mindset: Set the tone in your activities, interactions, and relationships. Instead of reacting to the world and waiting for success to drop in your lap, be creative about how you can make things happen for yourself.
- Certainty to discovery: Resist the need to be certain all of the time. Instead, cultivate an interest in discovering your path as it unfolds. Your future isn’t certain and can’t be, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the journey. The act of discovery itself can be far more rewarding than simply confirming your predictions.
- Authority to partnership: You don’t need to be the expert all the time. In fact, you can’t be. Outsource and offload your knowledge and wisdom to smart people around you, and by doing so develop relationships that will provide you with support and resilience when you need it most.
- Scarcity to abundance: Shift your mindset from predicting one scenario to imagining many possibilities. Diversify your resource pool. Adopt an “abundance mindset,” believing in the power of uncertainty to yield far more positive potential than you could have imagined.
Effectuation is an approach that encourages identifying and leveraging the resources you already have before searching for new tools.
When you set out to accomplish a new goal, start with your means: who are you, what do you know, who do you know? Then imagine possibilities that might stem from your means. Create opportunities and perform actions based on the resources you have. Contrast this way of thinking with pre-set goals that exist outside the context of your personal situation.
- Affordable loss
Limit risk by understanding what you can afford to lose with each step instead of seeking large-scale, all-or-nothing opportunities. Choose goals and actions with an upside even if you don’t succeed the way you want to.
What are you prepared to lose? How can you benefit even when you lose those resources? Write a list of things you can’t lose, what you’re prepared to lose, and what you can do to learn and get results quickest with the least amount of resources.
- Leveraging contingencies
Invite surprise into your life. Instead of focusing on worst-case scenarios, view “bad” news and surprises as pathways to new possibilities. Be flexible about your existing goals and embrace unexpected results as they come up.
Ask yourself how you can turn a suboptimal result into an opportunity. Simply practising this kind of thinking will help you build resilience as you set and achieve your personal goals.
Build relationships with self-selecting supporters, or people who like what you’re doing and want to be part of your journey. These people can be guides, accountability buddies, or collaborators. The important part is to get rid of the notion that you have to compete, go it alone, or be original to stand out.
The last effectuation principle reminds us that the future isn’t found or predicted—it’s created by you. Focus on activities within your control which you think are important and will result in desired outcomes. Set your own schedule and collaborate with people you want to spend your time around. Call on the serenity prayer for inspiration: Accept the things which cannot be changed, build the courage to change the things that can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.
These are just a few of the many rewards of studying Agile. If you want to make sure you’re pursuing something that pays off in terms of skills and relationships, even if you end up switching careers or focuses somewhere along the way, Agile is a safe bet. It’s the soft skills, not the software, that will continue to serve you as the job market shifts and your career and lifestyle evolve.
To learn the mindset and principles of Agile, Scrum, Lean and Kanban, become a better leader, build high performance teams, and get productivity take-aways to implement immediately in your job, register to our Agile course here.
Author: Saga Briggs. Saga Briggs is a journalist covering trends in learning, creativity, intelligence, and educational technology. Follow her @SagaMilena