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” There is chaos under the heavens and the situation is excellent” – Chinese proverb
Read this quote again and take a minute to consider the positive perspective of change that it implies. When times are chaotic and we’ve got a lot going on, often, because of changing circumstances, there may be risk involved but it is also an excellent opportunity for learning and growth. It infers optimistically that the situation is good because the change could bring improvements, opportunities and benefits if harnessed and channelled effectively. Embrace change, try to work with it not against it, accept it and deal with it the best you can.
One simple tool used a lot in agile thinking which is really simple and easy to use are sticky notes. They can be used in all sorts of ways – I love to use them to get information out of my chaotic head and into a format that I can visualise, organise and review, it helps me to think things through.
If you have some sticky notes handy, take 10 minutes to capture what’s on your mind; your jobs, ideas, expectations, thoughts. Once you’ve downloaded your thoughts review them, order and group them into a structure or format that helps you to organise and map them into a layout that makes sense to you. Use your map to help you gain a clearer perspective, to see things differently, and to ‘park’ ideas so you can free up head space.
It’s a good idea to step back and take a reality check on your situation and assumptions you might be making. We all make assumptions every day, influenced by evidence, facts, gut feeling, the opinions of others and many other things. Every so often it’s a good idea to challenge these assumptions, test and validate them, double check your interpretations are correct. You don’t know what you don’t know, and this is especially true when you are working on something new and innovative. A classic example of this is the reported quote by Henry Ford on developing the motor car, “if I’d asked my customers what they wanted they’d have said a faster horse”.
It’s really easy when you’re excited and into something to get carried away with ideas, options and trying to achieve the best outcome possible. Sometimes we can get caught up in trying to achieve perfection and the law of diminishing returns kicks in. That point you reach when the amount you are investing into a solution becomes greater than the value you are creating and the costs outweigh the benefits. It’s ok if things aren’t perfect, most things don’t need to be perfect, they need to be good enough to achieve satisfaction, good practice is often best practice.
Big changes are hard to adapt to, even if they bring great benefits, the process of change is often a difficult one. Agile encourages us to think big but act small, have a clear goal that identifies the value you seek to deliver, break it down into manageable chunks of value, work in short sprints to deliver value early. Keep it simple, start with a minimum viable product and then make regular, small incremental improvements based on feedback.
I often find myself with an over abundance of options and things to do, I have to make choices, I cant do it all. A great way to optimise your work is to us the Pareto Principle, defined in the early twentieth century by economist Vilfredo Pareto that 20% of our efforts creates 80% of the value we deliver. Take some time to analyse your work and identify your optimum 20% that is of the most value and optimise the amount of ‘work not done’ to reach your objectives.
Each morning have a quick meeting to review what you did yesterday, what you plan to do today and if there are any blocks or issues that need to be resolved. Team huddles are a great way to engage everyone on a daily basis and build better communication and cohesion within your team and a great way to say good bye to long inefficient monthly meetings that last all day.
Vanity metrics are the sort of metrics that tell you what you want to hear, and they paint a picture of the best parts of the story, what is going well. Vanity metrics can make us feel good but they can also be misleading and lull us into a false sense of security.
Sanity metrics on the other hand show us what we can do better, how we can improve and flag early warnings that something might be changing that we need to respond to before it impacts to ensure we mitigate the risk or leverage the opportunity as fully as possible. Sanity metrics tell us that we are doing the right thing and doing the thing right, they tell us if our actions are getting closer or further away from our goal.
Every few weeks spend some time in retrospect on your own and with your team. Ask yourself the below 5 questions to reflect on your work and its impact, use the answers to help you to review your activities and plot your way forward.
It’s ok to change direction and our minds, especially if things aren’t going well or a better option comes about. The key is to embrace change regularly as it happens rather than try to avoid it, on a regular basis take some time to review the big picture and whether you should persevere with your plans or pivot to take a new direction. Take what you learn from your previous experience and apply it, adapt and evolve yourself to account for change and take advantage of it.
Belinda Waldock is the author of Being Agile in Business, which offers practical advice on ways to work faster, smarter and leaner. It is published by Pearson