Agile it up in here
What if I used an Agile methodology when it comes to organizing my life? It might be utter buffoonery, but I wanted to find out.
There’s a prevailing idea out amongst internet communities about compound interest being the great differentiator between the average person and the superstars. In short, the people who train moderately every day over time will become much more advanced in knowledge than someone who crams over a short period of time. Given the long time horizon, knowledge tends to build upon itself and we become better and better at what we do.
Compound interest belies a lifetime of advancement and mastery. But how do we begin? What is it that we choose to accomplish with our lives? How do we get good at a skill?
I consider myself pretty adept at managing myself and my discipline, but I have to admit that the overwhelming list of things I want to pursue is that - overwhelming. I needed some help.
What is it about Agile, anyway?
There are two main ideas that are pervasive in the software industry about how to accomplish work: Waterfall and Agile. Waterfall means to plan everything out before execution. On its head, the Waterfall approach isn’t so bad. After all, measure twice, cut once as the saying goes.
But what happens when you don’t know what you’re measuring? What if the scope of the problem is so large that there’s no conceivable way of measuring it? Frequently, Waterfall projects take years to push out the door. By the time they come out, the old requirements are no longer relevant. Then the team goes back to the drawing board.
That’s where Agile comes in. Agile is all about failing fast and learning quickly. The Agile practitioners tout iteration over perfection. We can tweak as we go along and that way, we can always keep an accurate pulse of what the customers truly want.
Agile is about responding to change while still having certain disciplines in place to enforce delivery. Even though the individual increments may not present a great increase in features or development, there is an ongoing fortification of a foundation for future work.
This is cool and all, but how does it apply to our own personal lives?
Bringing Agile to Self-Mastery
I felt overwhelmed. There was a dark cloud above my head, taunting me about all that I had yet to accomplish. There were too many pursuits and not enough time in the day to conquer them. I realized it was getting unhealthy and unmanageable.
First, know thy enemy!
I wrote down a list of any and everything that I had in my mind that I had to finish. Anything left pending or on my todo list would end up on this master list of pursuits. And after putting it down on paper, I was relieved and daunted. It was a long list but it was also something that I could now put a face to. I could chip away at it.
But on further further reflection, I wondered at the point of it all. Was the ultimate goal to have nothing to do? Being a lifelong learner, this couldn’t be the case. Rather, I wanted a way to manage all that I had planned and to ensure that I prioritized that which I found most important.
There were days where I felt like I had to continue to churn through whatever it was that I was doing, even if my heart wasn’t into it. As a good friend reminded me, it is all about the journey. The feeling of accomplishment is great, but we can’t forget the journey it took to get there. That’s what makes us unique and how we can truly master the skills.
To tame this unreasonable beast, I thought Agile might be able to help.
The long list of pursuits that I had written down is my backlog. It is a long list of “features” that I would one day like to accomplish. Along the way, if priorities fall to the wayside, it is as easy as striking the bullet point from my list. But for the time being, I at least have a relatively good image of the challenges that I’m tackling.
In frequently reviewing my backlog, I can ensure that the most important goals are prioritized and that lesser goals remain on the radar.
This may sound silly, but a team of one is still a team. And sprints are essentially loose contracts to stick to. There will be days when motivation wanes and energies drop. Recovery is required. As long as we set reasonable sprint goals, we can be true to ourselves and build in some slack.
One of the key tenets to sprint planning is to avoid adding scope in the middle of a sprint that is committed to. Sure, priorities can change and small things moved around. However, large scope changes are discouraged.
Likewise, as I work from week to week, I try to keep in mind the ultimate goal of the two weeks. If I have accomplished it, the week will have been a successful one - at least from a skill development/mastery perspective. Having a reasonable timeline also prevents burnout.
I decided to turn to this technique of managing my own personal learning because it appears to work for software projects. With multidisciplinary thinking in mind, I hoped to apply patterns of problem-solving to different area spaces.
I am only beginning my journey in applying Agile practices to my own personal backlog of life skills. It looks to be an arduous task, but it is a start. I hope to check back in a few months to report on the progress.