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Three Agile Practices for Everyone

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Agile emerged towards the end of the 20th century from a burning desire to better address the needs of software developers and their customers. Today, we see people adopting Agile practices across all walks of life. In his TED talk Bruce Feller even talks about how to do apply Agile to your family life. Here we present three Agile practices that transcend development. Practices you should be adopting right now regardless of your industry or team size.

Create Transparency

If you have customers or colleagues (and most of us do) there is tremendous benefit to being transparent. Transparent about: the work you have completed, the work you are doing and the work you plan to do. Very importantly is the work you are not going to do. Transparency is essential for building trust. With transparency we know that people are listening, we know that people are addressing our needs and we know the priorities that have been established even if we might not agree with them. With visibility into work we have the opportunity to spot the bottlenecks and optimize the flow of work. Transparency should be frictionless and always available as a natural byproduct of the collaboration tools we use. A huge benefit of making work visible through such information radiators is that we can dispense with the universally detested status report. But we shouldn't stop at visibility into work. We need to extend visibility into our thoughts, our fears and our dreams of the future.

Implement Fast Feedback Loops

If you are a wedding organizer you have the benefit of learning from the many other weddings that have occurred before. The problem space is fairly well known. When the problem space is novel or uncertain, we don’t know all the challenges up-front. One tendency is to spend more time analyzing the problem. Yet, research and experience shows us that we learn better and faster through experimentation. When we conduct small, safe-to-fail experiments we are better able to respond to discovered knowledge. Every sailor is very familiar with this approach likewise anyone who has driven a car. We need to know when we are off-course so knowing our desired outcome is key and we also need to measure our progress frequently as large course corrections are always wasteful.

Limit Work in Progress

We’re all familiar with what happens to the highway when there are too many cars. The flow of traffic slows down, sometimes stopping altogether. The same happens with our work. With too many things in progress, our output grinds to a halt; sometimes suddenly and catastrophically. Just like the highway, the best way to overcome this problem is by limiting the work in progress. We have to stop saying yes to every demand placed on us. If we try to keep everyone happy, we will keep nobody happy. We need strict prioritization where no two items have the same rank. This requires discipline and courage to have those difficult conversations and sometimes we need to say no. However, it is best to have these conversations proactively. Through this shift in focus away from starting and more towards finishing we can bring about a big improvement in the throughput of value.

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