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7 Habits of Highly Effective Agile Transformation: Sharpen the Saw

Reading: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Agile Transformation: Sharpen the Saw
7 Habits of Highly Effective Agile Transformation: Sharpen the Saw

Beginning with the first three habits of independence and then the second three habits of interdependence, we have gradually explored the musings of Stephen R. Covey from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” as it relates to agile transformation.  Now, we conclude this series with the all-encompassing Habit 7 – Sharpen the Saw, otherwise referred to as the principles of balanced self-renewal.  All-encompassing because Habit 7 truly encompasses all the prior habits towards continuous balanced renewal.  Covey declares Habit 7 as the habit that makes all the other habits possible.


In Covey’s own words, Habit 7 is “preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.” And there is no quick fix here!  This sharpening of the saw takes persistent time and energy.  This time and energy must be balanced across what Covey refers to as four dimensions of renewal: Physical, Spiritual, Mental, and Social/Emotional.

As you would expect, the Physical dimension is all about health & fitness with concern for endurance, flexibility, and strength.  A focus on this dimension has you exercising  Habit 1 – Be Proactive.  Covey suggests to “…exercise our bodies on a regular basis in a way that will preserve and enhance our capacity to work and adapt and enjoy.”

The Spiritual dimension relies heavily upon Habit 2 – Begin With The End In Mind, to provide leadership to your life, focusing on centering your core with your value system.  How this dimension is experienced can vary significantly from person to person.  To some, this is their daily meditation routine.  To others, this might mean long walks on the beach.  And to others, this may be their relationship with God.  Again, this takes an investment of time and is a Quadrant II activity, essential but not urgent.

Learning and education, reading and writing, and even organizing and planning are all part of the Mental dimension, which utilizes Habit 3 – Put First Things First to manage ourselves effectively.  Covey coins these first three dimensions as the “Daily Private Victory” and encourages at least one hour a day, every day, as key to developing the 7 Habits.

The fourth dimension of renewal, Social/Emotional, embodies the interdependent Habits 4, 5, and 6, which we’ve learned are more about emotion than intellect.  While not nearly as time-consuming as the prior three dimensions, it does take practice in our everyday interactions with people.

To sharpen the saw is to balance and exercise all four dimensions regularly.  Covey proclaims that “This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life – investment in ourselves… to be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw in all four ways.”


Let’s focus on what renewal means to an individual to what this might mean to an organization, and the tie to agile transformation.  Covey suggests that the four dimensions of renewal similarly apply to organizations, however, with greater detriment when they are out of balance.  The Physical dimension manifests as the economics of an organization, the Mental as how it recognizes and develops talent, the Social/Emotional as how people are treated, and the Spiritual in its purpose and contribution.  Covey states that “Organizational, as well as individual effectiveness, requires development and renewal of all four dimensions in a wise and balanced way. Any dimension that is neglected will create negative force field resistance that pushes against effectiveness and growth.”

There’s no argument that an effective agile transformation helps an organization to achieve better business outcomes.  A balanced organization goes a long way towards an effective agile transformation.  Or rather, it takes a balanced organization, continuously sharpening the saw, to accomplish the better business outcomes sought through an agile transformation.  To some, this can feel a bit chicken and the egg (and it is) as to what comes first, the balanced organization or the agile transformation. What’s important is the focus on the 7 Habits.


Renewal, and all the 7 Habits, for that matter, are a never-ending journey.  This is something that Covey refers to as the “upward spiral” of continuous improvement. Covey’s upward spiral notion illustrates that “Balanced renewal is optimally synergetic. The things you do to sharpen the saw in any one dimension have a positive impact in the other dimensions because they are so highly interrelated.”

Covey points out that our conscience is what directs the upward movement of the spiral.  The four dimensions of renewal guided by our conscience sense congruence and incongruence with correct principles and “lifts us towards them.” It’s a never-ending journey to learn continually, commit, and do to progress up the spiral at higher and higher planes.  Likewise, organizations are on an upward spiral of renewal but guided by corporate culture.


Through this exploration of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, we’ve learned that the work of Covey is just as applicable to the organization looking to transform as it is to the individual.  We now understand Habit 7, the principle and process of renewal comprise all the previous six habits in a highly synergistic way on a never-ending journey towards effectiveness.  From this, we can conclude that a proactive organization (Habit 1) – with an end-state vision (Habit 2) and a focus on what’s important (Habit 3) –  can aim for Win/Win (Habit 4) by seeking first to understand (Habit 5) and synergizing (Habit 6), along with a constant focus on balanced renewal (Habit 7), is well poised for highly effective agile transformation.

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