How to Make (and Keep) a Resolution to Be More Agile in 2017

January 4, 2017 Andrea Fryrear

by Andrea Fryrear

Once again, January is upon us, and millions of people are eyeing their personal behavior with a critical eye. They’re resolving to lose weight, eat healthier, quit smoking, or purge their overflowing closet.

These are all laudable goals (let me know if you figure that closet one out), but I’d like to suggest a professional resolution to go along with these: be more Agile in 2017.

With Agile organizations reporting benefits that range from increased employee happiness to larger market share, making this transition early in the year could have a huge impact on your company’s 2017 outcomes.

But let’s not forget, New Year’s resolutions are hard to keep. A depressingly high 92% of Americans won’t be able to stick to theirs.

To ensure that your resolution to go Agile doesn’t fall victim to this massive failure rate, we’re going to investigate seven key characteristics of effective resolutions, and how you can use them to succeed in increasing your Agility this year.

What Makes an Effective Resolution

Psychologists and neuroscientists have done exhaustive research in habit change, basically concluding that when we want to modify our behavior for the better we’re working against some of the most primitive and powerful parts of our brains.

That means that we’ve got to outsmart ourselves a little when choosing our resolutions.

To give them the best chance of succeeding, self-improvement goals should be:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Publicly stated
  4. Small
  5. Singular
  6. In the “Flow Channel”
  7. Supported by an action plan

I really want your resolution to go Agile to succeed, so I’ve applied these seven components of great resolutions to the professional environment you’ll be working in. Here’s how to set yourself up for a more Agile 2017.

Specific

I’ve been breaking this rule already in this article by exhorting you to “go Agile,” because that type of broad, amorphous statement is exactly the opposite of how you should structure a New Year’s resolution.

Instead, use more specific objectives to rephrase your goals. Some good examples include:

You’ll notice that many of these statements include a timebox or deadline (that was intentional). These are another way to maintain specificity in your Agile resolutions by instilling your efforts with a sense of urgency. 

Quantifiable or Measurable

When you resolve to lose weight, you can track your progress with lost pounds, inches, or body fat. When you resolve to increase your Agility, you need similarly quantifiable data points to make sure you’re moving in the right direction.

You can track your progress in an Agile transformation with either Agile metrics or traditional metrics, depending on your goals.

Simply put, Agile metrics are designed to monitor the performance of an Agile team. They include things like velocity (typically used on Scrum teams), or throughput and cumulative flow (more common on teams using Kanban).

Traditional metrics, on the other hand, are the things that your department already uses to measure its success. On a marketing team, for example, these might include leads generated, social media engagement, or email subscribers gained.

To measure the success of your Agile resolution, you can use one or both types of metrics, as long as you’re quantifying it in some way.

Public

Peer pressure is a powerful force, and it’s one you should use to help ensure the success of any New Year’s resolution, be it personal or professional.

Research from Dominican University of California found that those who told friends or family about their goals did better than those who didn't, and people who e-mailed their support team weekly progress updates did best of all.

When you resolve to improve your Agility, announce your intention to your department, your manager, or the entire organization.

Display your board in a prominent location, where passersby can tell if you’re slacking on updating it.

If your organization has regular all-hands meetings, commit to providing regular progress reports at each company gathering.

The important thing is that you use whatever means at your disposal to produce some external expectations around your goals.

Small

In his massive guide to making and keeping resolutions, Chris Bailey of A Year of Productivity strongly advocates setting small goals.

“Small resolutions,” he says “take less time, willpower, and motivation, which means you will actually keep them, and become more confident in your ability to change.”

While big goals like “be healthier” are psychologically appealing, they’re much less likely to stick. The same goes for big professional objectives like “be more Agile.” 

"'Lose 10 pounds' sounds specific, but it's less likely to work than behavioral goals like 'This week I'll try to go to the gym three times, take the stairs at work at least twice, and bring a healthy lunch every day,' " says Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. Each met goal bolsters your resolve while also pushing you towards a larger objective.

The great thing about Agility is that it’s designed to be an ongoing task that’s never really done. Continuous process improvement is built in to Agile methodologies, so starting with a small increment, like holding daily standup meetings or organizing your work with a well-managed backlog, is not only acceptable, it’s preferable.

Not One of Many Goals

Human beings have a fixed amount of willpower, which is why we need to limit our personal and professional behavior modification efforts to one thing at a time.

Some changes are simple, like remembering to take a vitamin every morning, but most require adjustments on a much larger scale. That means you need to carefully consider all of the aspects of your day that will be affected by your singular resolution.

A weight loss effort, for example, isn’t just about eating better. You’ve also got to change your routine to incorporate more exercise, change the way you shop for and prepare food, and possibly adjust your social calendar to remove temptations.

Undertaking an Agile transformation will have similar wide-ranging ramifications that need your attention.

"Thinking through these substrategies boosts success rates," says Ian Newby-Clark, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Guelph in Canada. "But it would take too much attention and vigilance to do all that and also decide it's time to brush your teeth for the full two minutes and become better informed about world events."

In the “Flow Channel”

This concept comes from the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, but it’s application to resolutions is another gem from Chris Bailey’s guide. Here’s the basic idea:

Every activity that you do falls somewhere on this chart, depending on how challenging it is (to you), and how many of your skills it utilizes. The ideal place to be is, not surprisingly, in the “Flow Channel.” In this optimal zone, the challenge of what you’re doing is roughly equal to the skills you have to do that thing.

When it comes to undertaking an Agile transformation, this means you need to consider you and your team’s current skills and comfort level when deciding where to start. You don’t want to try to overhaul the entire team structure to accommodate Scrum roles if you have a change-averse group, for example.

But, if the department is excited about going Agile and has a largely cross-functional skillset that’s suited to Agility, you can do more faster.

Supported by a Plan of Action

Finally, a successful Agile resolution must include concrete steps if it’s going to succeed. This includes not only well-defined plans for your first small incremental improvements, but also a longer-term agenda with specific action items and due dates.

Your ongoing plan of attack for taking a group farther down the Agile path might include things like:

  • Live workshops and/or in-person training for the team or key individuals.
  • A reading list of important books and blogs, which the team can discuss at regular “book club” lunches.
  • Professional certifications, such as Scrum Master or Product Owner, if these are applicable to the team.

This medium- to long-term vision should be up for adjustment (it is Agile, after all), but having it in place will provide a roadmap beyond your first baby steps.

Will You Resolve to Go Agile in 2017?

The Agile Revolution is rapidly spreading outside of IT circles, which means that if your organization doesn’t embrace its ideals soon, it’s likely that one of your competitors will (if they haven’t already).

Use these seven characteristics of achievable New Year’s resolutions as the foundation for real and lasting change in 2017, and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. 

About the Author

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea is the Chief Content Officer for Fox Content, where she uses agile content marketing principles to power content strategy and implementation for her clients. She's also the Editor in Chief of The Agile Marketer, a community of marketers on the front lines of the agile marketing transformation. She geeks out on all things agile and content on LinkedIn and @andreafryrear on Twitter.

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