I’m An Agile Girl, Living In An Agile World (and I didn’t even know it)Marissa Rodriguez
In my personal library, there is an entire shelf dedicated to the study of leadership and management. Yet despite this affinity for project management, leadership studies, and countless How-To guides, Agile was a practice I was unfamiliar with and was excited to jump into. I quickly panicked when I realized Agile was born out of the software development world. I have a Journalism degree and have spent the last seven years working in education. Nothing remotely close to software development. Yikes.
However, as I learned more about the world of Agile, I began to identify parallels and similarities between the Agile methodology and the leadership and management practices I had learned in the past. This blog post is intended to serve as a bridge between the more traditional Agilistas and us- the outsiders (people like me who were intimated walking into the IT department). If software development isn’t your jam, but you’d like to explore introducing some Agile-like practices into your work, keep reading.
The Meeting Types
Several years ago, I committed to Patrick Lencioni’s doctrine based on two key books, “Death by Meeting” and “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. Lencioni categorizes meetings into four types:
- The Daily Huddle
- The Weekly Check-In
- The Strategy Meeting
- The Stepback
Here is how they translate (relatively, not exact but substantial parallels):
- The Daily Huddle – The Daily Stand Up
- The Weekly Check-In – A combo of Sprint Planning and Sprint Review
- The Strategy Meeting – Product Backlog Refinement
- The Stepback – Spring Retrospective
For brevity, I will focus on The Weekly Check-In, but there are many hints of Agile throughout all four. The Weekly Check-In is intended to be an hour-long structured conversation between two people who work together. In my case, I have them with my boss and five direct reports, which does not exactly align with the power dynamic of agile, but I also have Check-Ins with my colleagues laterally to foster collaboration and efficiency in a dynamic way. Sound familiar?
The Weekly Check-In is a live document; I like Microsoft Office Suite’s One Note. The ability to share your notebook is ideal for this type of meeting. The Check-In starts with the equivalent of a feedback loop. This sacred, protected section of the Check-In is a standing agenda item. It normalizes feedback by forcing both parties to reflect on the work thus far and pivot and adjust based on what happened the week before.
Next comes the Top 5 Weekly Objectives. By prioritizing the work this way, it serves as a mixture of Scrum and Kanban, force functioning your workload into a manageable size platter for the week by visually laying out the work by priority. The Check-In doc also serves as a tracker to update the completion status for each objective (user story) as the week goes on. Not only does this make for a visually satisfying sense of completion, it is also a very helpful way to communicate your priorities and work scope to your manager or coworker. Sometimes aspects of a project are complex and require breaking down tasks into multiple objectives/priorities. Again, the parallel here is prioritizing people and interactions over process and system. A system is only as good as the person’s ability to make it work. And sometimes that work is messy and needs flexibility.
Next comes the goals section. This is similar to the concept of “commitments” in agile. These goals are agreed upon at the beginning of the project by both parties. The goals cannot be changed during a project, like a sprint, but can be adjusted at a Strategy Meeting or a Stepback.
The last section of the Check-In document is left for housekeeping items, because similar to Agile, there is a difference between leadership development and management. Coaching and supporting are prioritized at the beginning, with more tactical items left at the end.
How it’s different and opportunities to incorporate more Agile aligned practices:
One stark difference that struck me throughout my learning of Agile was the power dynamic differences. My world is still very vertical – coordinators report to managers, managers to directors, directors to VP’s and Chiefs. Agile pushed me to think about all the times I sit in a meeting, as a Chief, telling everyone under me what to do, regardless of where we are at in the project. Or how often I take the lead and explain and demonstrate my team’s work to our CEO. What would happen if my coordinators and managers- the people that do the heavy lifting of the work- reported to the CEO on the project? What if my directors dictated the way they would accomplish a project? It is a scary yet thrilling thought. But then again, no one claimed Agile was easy – just that it has proven to be more successful and transformational in the development of teams. For that reason, I think it is worth the risk.