Agile (n.): Able to move quickly and easily.
Relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.
“And your blog, how did it start?” he asked just before taking a drink of Dudes’ California IPA. “It looks like it’s taken a lot of work.”
Did he really care or was this simply a default first date question?
I stared at the fine lines around his eyes as he awaited my response. It was hard to tell.
“I had a greeting card company after college,” I began. “But it was difficult to make money because margins are small on cards when you print in small batches.”
I took a drink of my Dudes’ IPA, too. The only thing more LA was my spandex workout outfit shamelessly worn at the Umami Burger bar.
“So, I read the Lean Startup and followed the methodology,” I continued. “I set small tests for myself. If I passed, I kept going. If I failed, I pivoted. When I failed my last test, I noticed that most of the traffic was going to the blog. And that’s when I switched to thestoryofmylife.com.”
The Marketing Director in him appeared mildly impressed; the potential mate was still seemingly a skeptic. I was too.
There Must Be a Better Way
Two of my teammates, a Software Developer and QA Manager, were seated on bean bags in front of our whiteboard when I entered my office the following morning, markers in hand.
Like most Santa Monica tech startups, there isn’t much to complain about besides which OG Britney Spears songs are added to the Spotify playlist or that last kinda-shitty Thai restaurant that catered lunch.
Yet, there has been a palpable tension lately, like waiting in a never-ending line at the DMV, resulting in long days, heavy sighs and the inevitable thought: “There must be a better way.”
For my team, this has meant a better way to provide software that our customers love instead of buggy features that are pushed out at the last minute to meet an arbitrary deadline.
On the whiteboard, the improvements needed included:
- Predictable results
- Continuous testing of features
- Less work in progress
- Flexibility with changing requirements
Don’t Go Chasing Waterfall…
I’ve been a Software Product Manager for the past 5 years. I’ve created some really great products – and some not so great ones. However, the successes and failures have been less due to product functionality and more-so the result of process.
When I started my career as a PM, I practiced the waterfall approach to product development.
Waterfall: a sequential design process in which lengthy requirements are written for the entire project and then coded as described, tested end-to-end and finally released.
Waterfall is like a complete kitchen remodel. A designer draws up an entirely new cooking experience – from recessed lighting to a new sink to a state-of-the-art wifi-enabled wine cabinet that dispenses endless frosé. Your dreams have come true.
Then the project begins and you realize that recessed lighting is out like floral crowns. The sink is installed but unveils needed plumbing repairs. And the wifi-enabled wine cabinet requires you to switch Internet providers and pay a $5 service fee per frosé.
Lean & Agile
“Would you like another IPA?” the bartender asked us.
Would he extend the date despite an early morning flight to Puerto Rico? I hoped so. He too favored crunchy peanut butter, appreciated my dad’s Old Fart Outdoors blog and seemed equally excited over the latest Apple keynote. Plus, he was cute.
“One more,” he said. “We’ll split it.”
Half an IPA was a low-risk option for testing compatibility, and I wasn’t opposed. In fact, it was an LA dating version of agile development.
Agile development is like the millennial’s kitchen makeover project that takes an incremental, iterative approach.Instead of in-depth planning at the beginning of the project, Agile methodologies are open to changing requirements over time by breaking projects up into small, testable steps.
Instead of a complete remodel, a Pinterest board is created and a designer friend is hired. New cabinets are installed with v1 knobs until the right vintage ones are later found at a flea market. The wine sits on top of a Target bar cart while we save for a refrigerated cabinet. But then a kitchen island enters the budget instead, proven more of a necessity by a couple adult-like cocktail parties.
When to Apply It To Your Life
At the end of 1½ beers each and a half-hug goodbye, we unlocked our bicycles parked outside and parted ways.
“Let’s get together when I’m back,” he called out before pedaling away. But despite candid conversation, I knew the only real success metric was whether he actually reached out again.
A part of me accepted this and a part of me hoped I would hear from him, whether it was a match or not. While I’ve mentioned in my blog posts multiple times the importance of ‘failing fast,’ it’s something I have to consciously remind myself, from first dates to building software to sustaining a lifestyle blog.
Like low-risk first dates, it might be time to embrace an agile approach to an aspect of your life if…
- The outcome is unknown
- You find yourself stuck in a rut
- You fear that you’re wasting your time
5 Ways to Become More Agile
Below are the practical ways that agile methodology can be applied to your life to make quick and steady progress towards your goals.
1) Start with the ultimate goal
This could be to launch a new product, lose weight or learn a new language. Embrace that the path to get there may vary but know which direction you’re headed.
2) Divide it into small tasks
Currently I’ve been attempting to write a novel. But my Google Drive folder houses a couple handfuls of unfinished chapters which left me feeling defeated and overwhelmed. Finally, I researched advice on how to write a book with the #1 suggestion being: ONE CHAPTER AT A TIME.
- If you’re launching a new product, begin with one variation
- If you want to lose weight, pick a small number
- If you’re aiming to learn a new language, aim to complete one Duolingo lesson
3) Create a cadence
In software development, we split the work into short 1 – 2 week sprints. Hence, “agile.” Sprints are manageable amounts of working time and follow in regular succession. Create a cadence that you will work on one task, such as 1-hour every day Monday – Friday. During that time, dedicate yourself fully to the one task at hand.
4) Set tests with measurable success metrics
Turn each task into a test with a deadline and success metrics.
- If you’re launching a new product, this could be creating a ‘coming soon’ landing page and running Facebook ads to it for a week.
- If you’re losing weight, this could be using MyFitnessPal to track your macros before weighing yourself at the end of the week.
- If you’re learning a new language, this could be passing your Duolingo test at the end of the lesson.
5) Persevere or pivot
At the end of your test, check in to see how you measured up against your metrics. If you passed your test, you know you’re on the right path for the next “sprint.” If you failed, move onto the next type of test.
- If no one clicked on your Facebook ad, tweak the language or a part of the product.
- If you didn’t lose a pound and found it unenjoyable, try meal prepping the next week.
- If you realized Duolingo was too hard to keep up with, try an audio version in the car.
Or if you haven’t heard from him after 1.5 Dudes’ IPA’s, it’s time for the next dating app match. And that’s okay.
Some parts of life are meant to be waterfall, like moving across the country or completing med school. Other parts are best experienced with an agile approach to move quickly through life’s unknowns. When broken up into smaller, lower risk steps, we can enjoy less work-in-progress and move closer to our ultimate goals, one small success or fast failure at a time.
Besides, pivots are fun. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be happily writing this on thestoryofmylife.com right now.