Agile IRL*

Donamarie Schettino | 04/15/2021

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” — Charles Darwin

I often remind myself that everything changes, for better or worse. Faster than I can say “Wow! This is the best project I have ever worked on,” I hear there is a challenge and we need to completely change course. This post is to not tell you to appreciate what you have while you have it, but rather to remind you that every change presents us with a new opportunity. Whether your product owner leaves your team with no replacement, your children now have to learn in a virtual environment, or the job market has shifted while you looked the other way, we can apply agile principles to so much of our lives.

Let’s get one thing straight. Agile is a mindset. Agile is not a methodology or framework. An agile mindset is about creating and responding to change in complex environments, and there is plenty of complexity to go around. Previous project management thinking was to create your plan and stay the course. Sure, there were risks and obstacles to manage along the way, but the projects had a big reveal at the end where all of the anticipation either made everyone smile in delight or start wondering what happened. We learned that being nimble and agile is not only a critical business skill, but also a critical life skill.So let’s be proactive by thinking about how to embrace change and stay agile in real life.

Our worlds change so quickly that it becomes easy to get swept up into changes instead of leaning into them. But without having an actual crystal ball, we can only flex to what we understand to be true of the present and be proactive about what we can control in the future. I have two methods I’ve tried over the years that have been effective in raising the awareness needed for me to shift my direction on what was most critical.

Method one is about making sure the big picture is in balance. Here are the steps I use to make sure I am paying attention to things that are important to me:

  • Break out life experiences into four or five categories. My categories are typically mental, physical, career, spiritual and social.

  • Define what those categories mean to you. Mine are:

    • Mental — mindfulness, health, continued learning (books, podcasts, audiobooks, classes)
    • Physical — health and well-being (exercise, nutrition, habits)
    • Career — direction; opportunity; job satisfaction; value brought to organization, clients and industry
    • Spiritual — core values, awareness and connection to a greater good
    • Social — relationships with family, friends and colleagues; network outside of my immediate circle
  • Evaluate how these areas in your life are thriving or lacking.

  • Make a plan for how you can keep up the stuff you like, drop the stuff that isn’t serving you, and add in the yummy things that make you happy, thrive and put you on the right path.

  • Timing: every few months, or whenever you are feeling unbalanced. Personally, I will occasionally feel an internal alarm go off to run through this exercise at my highs and lows. When things are going well, I want to not only be grateful, but also think about how this success can be applied across the different areas of my life. On the flip side, when it becomes apparent that one area has gone rogue and needs some help, going through this exercise feels empowering and reassuring that I can adapt and create a plan for success.

Method two is a more regular self-retrospective. This takes about 20 minutes per week, and during that time you ask yourself a set of questions that will help shift your focus on a continual basis. Check out my example below.

  • I did my best on: finding a solution to motivate my daughter to participate in virtual class activities.
  • I could have worked harder on: immersing myself when I was out of my comfort zone.
  • My favorite thing I did was: having one-on-one time with my son.
  • My least favorite thing I did was: argue with my family.
  • A goal I have for next week is: to prioritize a creative project.

I hope these ideas around embracing change help you as they helped me. As my mom always says, “Try it! It’s not poison!”

*Disclaimer: Everything here is subject to change.

Image by Eno Olson