A few years ago I was at an Agile conference standing around with a bunch of CSTs and CSCs and one of the CSTs said:
“The other day in class, this guy asked me if he was Agile enough… can you believe that? What a stupid question. Who would ask something like that?”
Um… me… all the time. Even though I have now been working in Agile for almost as long as I worked in waterfall, I find myself often worrying that someone is going to find me out, or that my waterfall practices are so deeply engrained that I can’t even tell when they raise their ugly heads and start messing with Agile.
I am always concerned about being agile and getting better through practice. The Personal Agility Canvas is one attempt to help address some of my concerns. What follows is a written explanation of what it is, examples for use and how to apply it in your own meaningful way.
Just Do It…
Where you start working on the Personal Agility Canvas does not actually matter. The ordering used below is based solely on how I normally go through each section. The main thing is just to start. I’ve personally found that it works much better when I avoid overthinking my ideas and begin filling the canvas with whatever comes to mind.
This is the box I usually start with when I am filling out the canvas. What goes in here should explain how you as an individual (not your team/group/department/company) add value. How would you respond if your boss was to lean his elbow over the wall of your cubicle tomorrow, coffee mug in hand, and say:
<Lumberg voice: “on”>
“Uh, yea, so, we’re Agile now and uh… we’re not really sure why we should have you keep working here so, um, you can go ahead and get set up in the basement next to Milton.”</Lumberg>
The question is, within your Agile(ish) organization, what unique value proposition do YOU (as an individual) bring to the table? What is it about you that makes you valuable to a company that has adopted (or is working on adopting) Agile?
Given that you want to change some aspect of yourself to become more Agile
When you are this more Agile you
Then how will you be different from who you are now?
When you evolve into this new version of you, how will this Agile version of you be able to add value to the organization? Or, how will your adoption of a more Agile approach better support the organization?
This can be a tough one. Most of us have spent time thinking about the value our company, our department, or our team adds, but we rarely take the time to consider the question as if we were re-interviewing for the job we already hold. And if you get really stuck, just ask yourself WWGHD (What Would Gene Hackman Do) “I tried to imagine a fella smarter than myself. Then I tried to think, “what would he do?” ~ Joe Moore from The Heist
So, try to imagine a more Agile version of you and ask how he/she would respond to the question, what value do I actually add here?
I come from a strong project management background and I’ve spent half my career learning how to work with Agile. I spent years fighting with Agile before it really made sense to me and the work I do. That offers me a somewhat unique perspective on adopting Agile. I see the workspace through an Agile point of view, but I also have a great deal of empathy for those struggling with the transition. My own personal transition was very difficult and that has helped me learn some things that I can use to help others get their heads (and hearts) out of the waterfall and into a mindset that is more in sync with the core tenets behind Agile.
Making the transition to Agile is not easy for an organization, or a department. And it is not easy for an individual either. If you are going to go down this path, you are going to have to expect some tough challenges. The process change is not easy, but it is nothing compared to the cultural and value system overhaul that it requires. In my experience, this holds true for those who REALLY want Agile to be more like the traditional way of working AND for those who read a book, drank all the kool-aid and found what they believe is the One True Way.
Change is not easy, and you are going to need a reason to keep going when things go all Sharknado on you. It would be easy to brush this one off and say your goal is to keep your job and that your company has mandated that everyone switch, but chances are, you’ll find it much easier to stick with this during the rough spots if you can come up with a specific thing you are trying to accomplish for yourself. So, what is your personal goal? Why do you want to go through this change? What’s the win for you (personally)?
- Do you have a specific goal for transitioning to Agile?
- How will you define/measure success?
- What indicators will let you know your goals have been achieved?
You may want to work in a more creative environment, or with a closely knit team that you can collaborate with. You may want to be part of a team that can deliver consistently. My favorite answer to this question came from someone who attended a workshop I ran on using the Personal Agility Canvas. He was an old school PM who was working with a team that had started using Scrum. He was struggling not just with a new way of working but with the fact that there was a whole new vocabulary he didn’t understand. His response “I just want to feel less stupid when I talk to the Agile people.”
One thing about setting goals, they need to be attainable. This is not the list of stuff you’d ask the Genie for after you freed him/her from the bottle. Your goals need to be few in number and they need to be realistically achievable in a relatively short time-frame. If there are too many, they are too grandiose or they are open ended, you may become discouraged and they will start working against you. A big part of this is not just achieving the goals, but developing the momentum you’ll need to keep working on transforming yourself.
Each of us has things about us that will propel us forward with the change that Agile brings. It is important to identify the strengths that you have because it is easy to get discouraged about making the switch. If you can identify a few things about yourself, how you work, how you think, etc., you can find a way to leverage these strengths to help you succeed with the goals you are setting for yourself.
- What about you, your mindset, and/or your level of discipline will help you during your journey to a more Agile you?
- What abilities, behaviors, personality traits, or habits will you be able to leverage to strengthen your successful transition?
- What experiences and/or training have you had that will serve you during your transition to a more Agile way of working?
Maybe you are someone who has experienced the strength of a good team first hand. Or you are someone who is just naturally open to experimenting with trying new things to see if they work better for you. I have a lot of experience in working with both Agile and traditional approaches of work. This experience has allowed me to see value in both ways of working and has led me to a point where I am less focused on process than I am on results (cough…outcomes).
I consider this to be a strength for two reasons. The first is that while I see value in learning new processes/approaches to work, I tend to not get so hung up on the idea of doing it “right”. It has also left me with a healthy skepticism. I take an empirical approach to how the different tools/methods/processes work. I do tend to start out trying to be disciplined about using a new approach, but trial and error wins the day in the end.
Interactions with Others
How we interact with others is a big part of the cultural change that comes with moving to Agile. This can relate to how we communicate with people, our ability to trust, our openness to differences of opinion and our ability to be empathetic to others who may be further along, or not, than we are with making this change.
If you come from a traditional background, believing that you can trust others to make good choices in the work they do and in solving problems for the customer can prove to be difficult. A lot of this may just be about being mindful of how we talk to people and how we react to the possibility of failure. No one likes to fail, but it is important to remember that each failure creates an opportunity to inspect and adapt and succeed next time.
Consider the way you interact with others, how you lead and are led, how you communicate and how you think and feel about the people you work with.
- Are you practicing transparency?
- Are you willing and able to trust others on your team?
- Is this demonstrated through how you interact with people?
- Do you need to control things others do to ensure they are done right?
In the 1960’s, Douglas McGregor was working at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and he came up with “Theory X and Theory Y”. Basically, Theory Y assumes that if we give people what they need and the freedom to make a choice, they will work hard and do good things. Theory X, (not so much with the Agile), believes that if we do not offer the carrot and the stick (or often, just the stick), that people are inherently self-serving and lazy. Agile is much more in the Theory Y camp. One thing I had to recognize when filling this out was that while I REALLY want to be Theory Y, I have had a lot of work experience that pull me more into the Theory X camp. The way this plays out in my interactions is that if I am not careful I can easily slip into the “just do this because” mindset.
This is probably the easiest of all the boxes to complete. Consider your working environment, the tools you have at your disposal. In working towards a more Agile approach, do you have everything you need to succeed?
- Are there things about your working environment that aid or impede your ability to be more Agile
- What could (should) be changed to better support your transition to Agile?
- Are there things in play that could be amplified to enhance your personal adoption of Agile?
If your team is not collocated but are in the same building, maybe you want a space where you can all work together. If your team is distributed, maybe you need video conferencing for Daily Standups or a few big monitors to hang up so everyone can always see the task board. Or maybe you just need a rolling white board you can all share.
I use Personal Kanban to manage my work. When I am home and have my whiteboard, it works great. But, I travel a lot and I can’t bring the whiteboard on the plane. Yes, there are plenty of electronic tools out there, but most of them require internet access and they are no good to me at 30,000 feet. While solving this is still a work in progress for me, it is something that I know I need.
Also, because I love what I do, I have a tendency to want to say “HELL YES!” to every opportunity that comes my way. Work is important to me, but my family is much more important. I have learned the hard way that I need help with remembering to protect the time I have to be at home and fully present with my wife and daughter.
The Mark Inside
In the book “The Ticket That Exploded” William Burroughs said “ Husters of the world, there is one mark you cannot beat: The Mark Inside”. Burroughs was referring to the fact that each of us, like it or not, is our own impediment. No matter how hard we try, we can never truly see ourselves outside of the narrative we create for ourselves about our own life. This is true in work, and it is true of our adoption of Agile. While it may not be something any of us can fully overcome, it is something we must be mindful of, always seeking understanding. Part of the relentless pursuit of continuous improvement that is inherent in Agile, is always trying to see the ways in which we are keeping ourselves from getting better. (Having an accountability partner can help a lot here see the end of this post.) In what ways are YOU the impediment to achieving your goals for a personal adoption of Agile?
- How trusting or skeptical are you in the “promise” of Agile?
- How disciplined are you in your practice of Agile?
- Are you hedging your bets because of “how things work in the real world”?
The trick with this is to try to develop awareness without judgment. For many, this is much harder than it sounds. If you have established goals for adopting Agile and you aren’t meeting them, are you able to see why? Maybe the goals were not realistic, maybe there are other factors that are contributing to your situation and you need to take those into account and reset. What you are working for here is a better understanding of how you are approaching the changes you are trying to make and learning more about yourself along the way.
I believe that once you learn traditional project management, it changes the way you look at the world. I am a project manager and I spent a lot of time refining my ability to see things that way. But, now I work in Agile. While I cannot un-learn traditional project management, I know that I need to pause for a few seconds to let the Agile filters kick in before I speak. The healthy skepticism that I listed earlier as a strength is also something that factors in here. I need personally validated proof in order to truly believe that changing how I work is going to help. While this is a strength, it also leads me to being a bit reluctant to just jumping on board with new ideas.
What are some possible areas of focus where you may want to introduce a change that will improve your ability to adopt Agile on a personal level?
- Behavior towards others
- Openness and Transparency
- Knowledge and experience gaps
- Willingness to Trust
Because of my experience working as a traditional PM, there are still language issues to be aware of – like referring to the humans who do the work as “resources”. I also have some gaps in the things I know about Agile that I continue to work on. And I know, that despite my best efforts, I still struggle with trusting that left to their own devices, and provided with the things they need, that people will do good things. I’ve gotten much better at this, but I still periodically run across situations that drag me back into the Theory X camp.
I have found that in working on this section of the canvas there are two things to consider. The first is to try avoid going from desired changes to negative self-judgment. The second is to keep this list reasonable. It is easy to come up with a bunch of stuff we all need to work on, but trying to maintain a list of things you can actually achieve in a relatively short time frame can be challenging. Be clear and keep it simple.
Transitioning to Agile is not an easy thing. There may be a lot you have to let go of and many of those things could be exactly what got you to where you are today. Change is scary and it is normal to be more worried about the devil you don’t know. So what about the possibility of Agile as a cause for anxiety or stress?
- Does the possibility of letting go of the things you have learned to do in work give you some angst?
- Do you worry that adopting Agile might have a negative impact when you start explaining to management you they aren’t getting a Gantt chart and that despite your PM Certification , you can’t actually be trusted to accurately predict the future?
- Are you seeing roadblocks or are you so deeply under the sway of responding to every impossible request by saying “YES” that you are stuck in the “Yeah, well, Agile sounds cool, but that will never work at OUR company because WE’RE special. “
When I first started working with people who were Agile, I was always scared that I was going to be caught or found out and exposed as a traditional PM. I dealt with this by trying to overcompensate for my traditional background. This completely worked against me.
Actions Needed and Accountability Partnerships
Step 1: Take few minutes to review your Personal Agility Canvas. Come up with a list of 3 to 5 actions you believe you could accomplish in a relatively short time frame. These should be things you can measure and feel comfortable committing to and they should be focused on helping you reach whatever you are aiming for in terms of becoming a more Agile version of you.
Step 2: Write each action out, set a realistic deadline for each of the items and figure out how you will measure success, or define done for each of these items.
Step 3: Check your action plan against the goals you’ve set. Will the actions help you get there? If not, why and do you need to change one or the other.
Step 4: Go find an Accountability Partner. My suggestion is that the partner you find should be someone you trust to give you honest feedback and will be willing to call you out on things or challenge you when things seem off.
Step 5: Share your list of actions with your Accountability Partner. You don’t have to share anything on the canvas but the Action box. The rest may be fairly personal. When you share the actions, make sure to let your partner know about the deadlines you’ve set and how you will measure performance towards those goals. The job of the Accountability Partner is to check in with you if they have not heard back by the time the established deadlines hit. If you don’t hit them, that is between you and your partner, but they should be willing to challenge you on why if the goals are not met.
Establishing an Accountability Partner serves two purposes. The first is that your partner should be willing and able to serve as a sort of Personal Agility Trainer for you (like you’ve had in a gym). The second reason is a but dysfunctional but I have found that the guilt that comes from knowing someone will be checking up on me is a strong motivator.
Once you and your partner reach a shared understanding about their role, your goals and how you plan to achieve them, then it is time to get to work. You should expect that sometimes you’ll succeed with these things, sometimes, not so much. The trick is to continually inspect and adapt along the way. Should you decide to use the canvas, it would be great if you returned to this post and shared your experiences with the canvas.