Applying Agile Principles to Your Daily Work

Want to get “twice as much done in half the time?” That’s one of the goals Jeff Sutherland had for himself and his teams while creating what is now known as Agile. And it’s also a goal many Agile practitioners have for themselves in their daily work.

Everyone wants to move faster, think bigger, and waste less time in their day to day, but many don’t know how to achieve it at the personal, practical level. Luckily, if you’re already familiar with Agile principles, you’re ahead of the game.

Many people (especially those new to Agile) think about it at the team or perhaps organizational level, but don’t see how Agile principles can be applied to the way they do work. The truth is, whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a freelance designer, you could benefit from a structured approach to the work you choose to do, and how you do it. And this is precisely what the Agile principles are designed to do, for teams as much as for the individuals working in them. Here are some ideas for applying Agile principles to your daily work.

Agile Principles

The core principles of Agile are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Agile teams value:

  • Doing things instead of talking about doing things
  • Soliciting customer insights throughout the entire development process, instead of just at beginning and end
  • Maintaining enough flexibility to move with reality instead of fighting against it or ignoring it

These ideas are surprisingly handy on the individual level as well. Working with people efficiently, creating high-quality things quickly, and maintaining flexibility are good goals for any person to have for work. Here are some examples of how you might incorporate these Agile concepts into your daily decision making.

People Over Process: Pick Up the Phone

In summary, having teams adopt a digital Kanban tool is the easiest path to better team productivity, improved quality, and collaboration. It leads teams to a better understanding of their process and a new way of working. With the visual information the tool provides, teams follow through on their most critical business priorities, leading to increased profitability and customer delight. Kanban is something your team can start today in as little as 15 minutes.

Let’s face it: As amazing as email, Slack, texting, and other tools can be, there’s sometimes no replacement for a real conversation, either over the phone / via video chat or in person.

The Agile principle of individuals and interactions over processes and tools is simply the idea that building and fostering systems, practices, habits, and values between people is a more valuable use of time than creating systems of processes and tools.

The reasoning here is that if processes and tools guide product development, people and the way that they approach work must conform to the processes and tools (instead of the other way around).

Agile approaches value people over process – they put the focus on people and their energy, innovation, and ability to problem-solve.

If you’re guilty of relying a bit too much on complex systems of Google Docs, Slack bots, and social media alerts but not spending enough time talking to your team members, customers, or managers, you’re probably not doing the best work you could be. You gain perspectives and insights every time you talk about work with anyone—in order to move faster, try discussing ideas face-to-face instead of via Slack.

Working Software: Just Ship It

The idea of working software over comprehensive documentation doesn’t mean that everyone has to start designing apps; it can be applied more broadly, to any type of work. It’s the idea that getting things out into the world is more important than launching a perfect (and perfectly documented) project out of the box.

It’s a fact of life that any task will occupy whatever space you give it. Breaking work down into smaller chunks and being intentional about which chunks you tackle when (i.e. practicing Agile) can keep momentum going on projects and prevent you from unintentionally dragging projects out longer than they need to be.

If you ever find yourself thinking, “Before I can release this, I have to do this, this, and this,” ask yourself if there are opportunities to decouple some of the activities so that you can release your work into the world sooner. This kind of thinking not only helps you get feedback from customers faster, it helps keep projects (and the people working on them) focused.

Customer Collaboration: Ask Questions Along the Way

In work and in life, it’s always a good practice to identify who your customer is and ask lots of questions to make sure that you’re creating / deciding upon something that meets their needs.

Your “customer” might not always be someone paying you to do something for them in a professional context. In Agile, your customer is anyone who receives or is affected by the work you’re doing. Your customer can be your actual customer, or it can be your boss, the marketing team, or anyone else for whom you create work.

Anyone who will be using or benefiting from the work you’re doing should be involved in the process of making it. This does not mean asking for feedback every five minutes, but it does mean asking for it sooner and more frequently throughout the process than you might be used to. Although you run the risk of your “customer” getting annoyed, you drastically decrease the risk of wasting hours creating something that you’ll have to completely redo later.

Whenever you begin a new project, ask yourself: Who is my customer? Do I know what they want? Spending time clarifying this upfront is always worth the effort.

Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

Flexibility at work allows you to move more freely in your daily schedule and how you structure and think about your work.

In this context, we’re not really talking about flexibility in terms of your ability or willingness to compromise, although good collaboration skills definitely help when you’re trying to work more efficiently with others. Here, we’re talking more about the extent to which you are able to handle internal and external changes during any specific project. Are you able to bend without breaking? Does any deviation from the plan create conflict / stress?

If you find yourself constantly feeling stressed, or feeling as though you are always lagging behind, it might be worth taking some time to uncover areas where you could increase flexibility in your work life. You could:

  • Only take meetings in the mornings
  • Drop a few clients to focus on the few you enjoy working with most
  • Hire another team member to handle some of the workload so that you have more capacity to take on complex projects
  • Everyone has room to increase their flexibility at work; it just requires a willingness to see those opportunities and the resolve to make them happen.

Trying Out Agile

Want to get twice as much done in half the time? Try incorporating Agile principles into your daily work. Focus on your relationships with people, break work down so you can deliver it quickly, ask lots of questions, and find ways to increase flexibility. Applying these Agile principles to your daily work can help you spend more time doing high-quality work, and less time stressing about your productivity.

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