…and an Agile New Year!

December 19, 2012 Patrick Wolf

The last few weeks of the year are already upon us. In addition to the slew of upcoming “Best Of” lists, the end of the year means travel, family, food, drinks, and that thing we all dread: a resolution. Rather than suggest that we all resolve to be more Agile in the New Year, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on how some basic principles of Agile can make us all more successful in keeping our resolutions; or at least recognize measurable success.

I think this video perfectly captures the essence of Agile outside the realm of software development:

  1.  Get Started. In Agile, we preach that it is more important to start working on the job rather than relentless planning every last detail. This gives everyone something to do with no down time but makes the job seem manageable. Rather than looking down endless list of requirements we break things up and only focus on what is right in front of us. This makes it possible to look up from time to time and see how far we’ve progressed.
  2. Take a break. The purpose of the Stand-Up meeting is to force people to have a mental break; to reflect on their day; and feel reaffirmed that their teammates are all working towards a common goal.
  3. Have a deadline. It should be noted that a deadline does not mean a milestone release. Rather, it means time-boxing. Tasks and stories are assigned story points; work is broken down into Sprints of set duration; and releases are based on one or more Sprints. Each deadline gives everyone a chance to measure progress and course correct. Without a set, short deadline it is hard to measure any tangible success.
  4. Break down larger stories into workable tasks. In Agile, Epics are broken up into User Stories and User Stories are broken up into Tasks. Focusing on the specific work to be done not only allows people to more easily estimate effort but it also shows accountability based on assigned tasks.  Details get lost when looking only at the big picture.

Lastly, although it wasn’t in the video, one of the most important aspects of Agile is not being afraid to fail. Many projects will fail at one point or another. If a project team can recognize where they are failing early they have time to course correct. The same is true for resolutions. Most resolutions will fail. It is isn’t about holding fast to a resolution and then kicking ourselves when we fail. It is about measuring our progress before failure and reacting to that failure in a positive direction.

I hope everyone out there has a great holiday season and gets out of the gate early for the New Year.

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