Agile is often implemented as a Hail Mary by teams struggling with an existing project that is not benefitting from a traditional, phased (Waterfall) structure. And while, yes, agility can benefit complex projects, the real magic only occurs when everyone is on board with making the necessary changes to flatten hierarchy within a team, create transparency, and communicate openly.
Though initially created for software development, the 17 authors of the Agile Manifesto and its principles aimed to create project management methods that added humanity and flattened the hierarchy of traditional development cycles. Over the past 20 years, the number of methods falling under the Agile umbrella has grown, with the most popular being Scrum and Kanban.
At its best, Agile works because it strengthens the relationships of those working together. You don’t need a rollout to try some of the greatest Agile tools in any group setting.
Here are 4 Agile tools you can apply just about anywhere:
A couple of years back, I taught my elementary school-aged kids how to use a simple Kanban board for managing personal projects. My daughter (in 3rd grade at the time) quickly made a game out of filling her whiteboard with colorful sticky notes so she could plan her own Halloween party, and her satisfaction was apparent every time she moved one of those little notes down the swim lane, from “To Do” to “Doing” to “Done”.
Since then, my kids have dabbled in task board use when planning large school projects, holiday prep, and bedroom redecorating. Got a volunteer project or event to plan? People of all ages can enjoy the quick gratification from moving a task to completion, just make sure your tasks (sticky notes) are broken down into small chunks of work so you can keep them moving!
Pro tip: make sure to celebrate every task that’s moved to Done!
I know what you’re thinking, and you are correct: your housemates will look at your funny if you suggest doing a Daily Standup (Scrum if you like) outside of a business setting. But the beauty of the daily check-in, and the reason we should all be having them with anyone we work with daily, is that it’s easier to deal with challenges together when we already connect with someone each day. If you’re trying this with people you don’t live with, schedule something weekly or bi-weekly.
Choose a time that everyone agrees is polite. At my house, we have to have coffee in hand before asking,
“So what do you have going on today? Is there anything you need from me?”
If anyone needs support, they can ask for it early, and then everyone goes about their day. And maybe don’t call it “Standup”. You don’t have to call it anything: the magic is in what happens when it becomes routine.
Retros are the most underestimated Scrum event because many of us are uncomfortable getting real when it comes to facing what was difficult about something: a PTA fundraiser we helped plan, a math test we did not do great on, a challenging week of back-to-back meetings. After the damage is done, who wants to spend any time talking about what went wrong?
As with Standup, reflecting on a project is more low risk when it’s routine. Find a weekly time you can ask the questions of,
- What went well?
- What was hard or went badly?
- What do we want to change next time?
I recommend holding retrospectives when the people involved are adequately rested and are eating food. Also, again, don’t call it a Retrospective. That will sound intense for anyone who is not on the clock.
Order a few pizzas and ask your housemates, (your family, your partner, your volunteer group,) how their week went, and listen actively. Try reflective listening instead of advising. In fact, don’t offer any advice at all. See if you can come away with one takeaway that everyone is willing to try to do better next time.
If done regularly, trust can be cultivated, and growth can happen.
Scrum Master Jedi Helper Trick
This isn’t so much a trick as it is a practice in restraint for many of us: see what happens when you are trying to move progress along, by only
- Asking questions and
- Making observations
It’s a fun experiment to try with just about anyone. What feelings or expectations come up for you when you’re trying to get someone you’re working with (or parenting, or spending your life with) to do something? Direct communication is very important, but this method can be a light touch toward progress, and sometimes that is all you need.