Using Agile Planning in My Daily Life

Updated: Jun 13, 2019

I’ve been in the software industry for over 15 years now. In the early days, I was part of a small startup company that began building software using traditional “waterfall” methods and then lived through the transition to daily stand up meetings, scrum masters, and the like. At first, the change was… let’s say challenging. Not everyone was on board (including me) and some thought the structure was too rigid – which is a bit ironic considering the very definition of agile is all about flexibility. Some people didn’t like meeting every morning, or didn’t like their daily routine changing, or didn’t like the accountability of saying every day what you plan to do, what you got done, and what you will do next.

Once the results started pouring in though, everyone seemed to get on board. We were getting things done quicker, there were fewer delays and errors, and the communication between teams was a lot better. Yes, changing the way we had always done things wasn’t easy at first. But the payoff was tenfold.

I’ve been using agile methods ever since. What I didn’t expect was how much I would begin including agile planning methods into my every day life. I’ll give you a few examples:

Agile planning is a lot like grocery shopping…

· Plan for the day – every morning when I wake up I take a few minutes to review what I didn’t get accomplished yesterday, what I need to get done today, and the potential roadblocks. By reviewing my To-Do’s in the morning, I can make sure I have everything I need for the day (including a protein packed lunch, high octane coffee, and tennis shoes if it’s going to be a tough day!)

· Planning in blocks of time (sort of like points) – Generally I look at my time for the day or the week and I’ll block off times between meetings or other obligations to complete my “heads down” work. During those blocks I take care of my list of smaller tasks that I can knock out quickly, or I may choose to work from a quiet location without interruptions. Estimating the amount of time I plan to devote to a certain project helps me balance my days better, communicate when something may be falling behind, and just keeps me sane really. When I know Monday is going to be back-to-back meetings, I can plan my Tuesday to be more about getting tactical work done. If I have 6 hours of staring at Excel in my future, I may block off time to whiteboard a new idea to break up the time.

· Defining Tasks and Delegating – I have found that if I plan my work ahead, understand the task at hand and the resources needed, and the final deliverable due date, I can more easily identify when I can (and should) reach out for help. As I’m working through the day or week, I may have a meeting that runs long or an unexpected task that becomes a higher priority. Because I’ve spent the time planning ahead and communicating with my team about what we have going on, I can easily shift around lower priority items or ask for help.

These practices spill over into my home life too. I’ve gotten way better about communicating my plan for the week, both at work and at home. When others around you realize you have a super hectic day ahead, or you have more free time, they can adjust too. Day full of meetings? You should probably text. On a plane? Send an email. Working from home?

Okay, I can probably answer your FaceTime… but I might be in my pajamas!

To me, agile planning is all about coordination, collaboration, and communication. And I’m all in.

I’ll close with one funny (and true) story about how I put agile planning to good use – specifically Work Packaging. I had my whole family with me, and I needed to get some grocery shopping done for an offsite meeting. We had four people and only one hour to shop before the meeting because this particular grocery store closed early that day. I divided the grocery store into 4 main areas: beverages, paper goods, non-perishables, and produce. I took the digital list of groceries and edited the list into groups by those areas. When we arrived, I texted each person their list and their area, and we set out to divide and conquer. I am proud to say, 45 minutes later (and $300 poorer) all four of us met at the register and were checked out in record time. We even had time left to grab a Starbucks coffee on the way out!

As you begin to learn more about agile planning, I encourage you to think of how agile planning can change your daily routine, at work and at home!

Mandi Coker

VP, Education & Engagement at O3