Agile concepts for avid doers

Agile. It’s a term that’s being used quite a lot recently as industries, other than software programming from where it began, are beginning to adopt its methodologies. 

For those who are quite new to the concept, Agile is a methodology that was first created formally in software programming in the early noughties. From my passive understanding of it, it’s essentially an incremental delivery of a product that evolves as a living thing that can be adapted, revised and improved on, so to be produced on time and on budget.

Rather than wait for the T’s to be crossed and the I’s to be dotted, getting something workable out there on time and on budget means that work can continue on a manifested product and much more collaboratively.

This has many benefits, too many to go into, but I wanted to focus in on my particular favourites:

  1. There is a product produced on time. As someone incredibly impatient and more of a big thinker rather than a detail-delver, I like to just get things out there. No dillying. No dallying. No faffing with minute details that, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t worth delaying a project for. Where things are produced that aren’t polished, the end users are of course made aware of this. Which leads me to my next favourite benefit…
  2. When the product isn’t polished, there’s room for improvement and collaboration. An idea looks great on paper but when it comes to life, you spot new flaws and gaps that couldn’t have otherwise been picked up. So if the end result was delayed drastically for the irrelevant finishing touches, it becomes absolutely superfluous if it’s not fit for purpose or the end user notices something that needs sorting. Having it out there means it is a live demonstration, one that can be adapted, amended and revised. It also means it can evolve in its natural habitat, ensuring it’s fit for purpose. The time spent on dallying can instead be spent on improving.

This can be seen as a sort of beta test, trying out an unfinished product to identify flaws and receive feedback.

The agile concept was formalised in the early noughties, as I’ve mentioned, but I’ve found a reference to the particular elements listed above many years before this.

In the book “Training needs analysis and evaluation” by Frances and Roland Bee (1994, Institute of Personnel and Development), there is a delightful analogy that demonstrates an agile approach to addressing an issue. This isn’t word for word but goes a little something like this:

The Town Planner

A town planner was given the task to place a park in the middle of the town that had a pathway and flowers. Previous designs involved paths being in pretty symmetrical patterns or where the skilled planners felt most appropriate. The problem with previous attempts though was that pesky walkers would ignore these carefully thought out paths and walk over the grass and flowers, creating their own shortcuts.

This town planner felt a bit rebellious though and tried a different approach. They placed the park in the centre of the town, as agreed, and then opened the park to the public. No flowers and no paths. 

With a bit of scepticism, they were left to it and after a couple of months the town planner returned to their park.

They discovered the walkers and town folk had worn down their own paths that they felt were the best way to get from A to B.

The town planner then proceeded to put down paths based on the town folk’s worn down paths.

This is a great example of getting something out there and seeing how it goes when producing something is far more important if not more beneficial than having it polished first.

It’s not a cop out; it needs to be sensible and able to improve itself by being ‘alive’ and out there. Off of paper and into the real world in order to learn the practicalities from living its purpose and evolve.

So what does this mean for you in the workplace?

I anticipate more organisations jumping onto the Agile bandwagon; it’s practical, it keeps momentum, and it contributes to delivering results.

If you were to start practising this methodology in the work that you do, you should be able to demonstrate the benefits it has to your team and your organisation if they haven’t already adopted it.

Figuring out when to apply the approach though is something you will need to assess per project or task. Weigh the positive and negative impact on producing what can be seen as a half-finished product on time, with producing a finished product out of time.

Sometimes it’s necessary to polish things off before producing it and the extra time that needs to be negotiated will make sense and be more beneficial.

However, make sure this isn’t an anti-Agile mindset. For those who like to take a disproportionately long time faffing with small details won’t like this new approach so you will need to pick the right tasks to demonstrate the benefits of Agile.

Start with baby steps and with products with minimal impact that are ‘semi completed’. It may be a new concept for you too so make sure you get comfortable with it and record the positive impact and benefits it has before spreading it wider.

Career management

You can also apply this mindset to your career planning and management. You might not necessarily know the specifics of your end goal (ideal career choice, the niche for your own business, progressing your career, leaving a job) but you can begin to take steps in the right direction.

A squeaky polished career plan can be edited, revamped or even completely trashed as you progress through it, and decide to change your end goal or your efforts, as I’ve written about before. This is usually as a result of having taken those first baby steps into the plan, bringing it to life from just a sensible-sounding idea on paper.

Yes, you might change direction, but the skills and the things you have learnt during those initial stages not only set you up to the correct path (even as a process of elimination!) but they’re also transferrable to the correct path.

It’s essential to begin this evolution process. This can only begin with a half-finished product that has room to grow and developments without the restrictions of a polished final product.

Whether this is a project at work that seems to be stuck or your career plans that are putting your actions on hold, begin with the first few steps and see how they evolve to the final product.

 

The job litmus paper test

In the first post of this 5 part series, I shared my thoughts on there not being a perfect career for everyone. So if there isn’t a perfect career out there for you, and therefore any job can be a step into a fulfilling career, how do you structure an approach that at least decreases the risks of falling into the wrong job, and increases the odds of finding a right one?

Although you don’t know which job or career will give you job satisfaction yet, you know that the end goal is job satisfaction itself; however the bridge that gets you there is still indistinguishable.

Job litmus paper test

Do you remember litmus paper tests back at school? That slip of paper the teacher dipped in random solutions to test its pH scale – if it turned pink, it was acidic; if it turned blue, is was alkaline. A job litmus paper test does the same sort of thing when it comes to testing out a potential job or career.

In essence the components that make the job litmus paper test are:

Coincidentally* I wrote about these 3 elements individually in the previous 3 posts. This concept is nothing new and I’m not claiming this to be the one best way. I am however suggesting that the job litmus paper test helps you decide your steps before you take them in an unconventional way compared to other advice out there.

You see, when you don’t know what you want to do but you want to build momentum towards job satisfaction, this job litmus paper test acts as a decision maker against unknown and indefinite variables increasing your chances to job satisfaction. It may not help in determining the right job for you but it will certain determine if a job is right for you.

Career Venn diagram

A sucker for a graph, I suggest using something like a Venn diagram, the idea being that a specific overlap of your unique formula, preferred working culture and professional motivation will bring to light a good career choice. There have been a number of theories that correlate to this concept but the issue I personally found with these is that they suggest the diagram is a sure way to pinpoint a career for you…

What happens if you aren’t aware of a specific career is in existence? If becoming a thermal fluid dynamicist is a perfect career for you, would you have been able to identify such an obscure and potentially unknown job from using the diagram?

Like a lot of people, my early working life consisted of being incredibly frustrated with the question ‘what career is for me!?’. It was only after I saw my current role advertised that I was able to compare it to my diagram; a combination here, and a combination there and lo and behold I saw a winning combo.

But, in my first post in this series, I poo-pooed the concept of the Venn diagram. What gives? Well, two things about the Venn diagram concept are:

  1. It only works in retrospect – it’s easy to fit specific skills, culture and goals (while conveniently disregarding the rest) into a fulfilling job;
  2. It only works when you stumble upon a job that meets the majority of the strongest elements within your diagram, and you can place these into the requirements of the role.

I could only see that my job was the manifestation of specific elements from my Venn diagram after I had seen the job description. I don’t think I could have easily concocted my job using the Venn diagram before I had seen it advertised.

Don’t get me wrong; when constructing your Venn diagram, you may well see a blatant career in front of you. By all means roll with it! That’s fantastic news! But this may be just one out of a few possible careers, some you’re not aware of or familiar with.

And this is why it helps those who haven’t any ideas on what they would like to do.

How to use the test

The biggest use of the job litmus test before finding a good career is that, although it might not highlight your choices, it will certainly narrow down your choices. For example if you want to work in a progressive field that allows some sort of movability across specialisms to do with numbers, all within a corporate environment, it would be safe to narrow your search towards banking, finance, accountancy or risk management, for example.

If you like to help people, to train and motivate them but in a relaxed environment and be seen as someone who independently chooses their career’s direction, you can narrow your choices to learning and development, freelance training (be it fitness, business, etc.), management consultancy or further education.

When you get to see a number of patterns of fields that take your fancy, you can then begin to make some enquiries. Begin to scope the fields you want to explore, to really get an understanding of what they entail. You can do this by:

  • Talking to people you know who are in similar fields
  • Reaching out to people you don’t know in similar fields via Twitter, LinkedIn or blogs
  • Researching job profiles through career websites like National Careers Service , Prospects, Target Jobs, Total Jobs, and My World of Work to name a few
  • Researching job profiles through good old fashioned books like The Book of Jobs, The A to Z of Careers and Jobs, Careers 2018 Directory and What Color is your Parachute. These aren’t affiliates, just hearty recommendations.
  • Watching video interviews of people who work in a number of sectors – a simple online search will bring up loads of these!
  • Contacting professional bodies and institutes that oversee their respective sectors to see what it entails and if they can get you in contact with their members
  • Searching courses related to potentially interesting sectors and understanding the module breakdown of topics
  • Contacting HR departments, specifically the recruitment teams, of companies that interest you or are related to potentially interesting roles. Making yourself known to these will also get you on their radar should any positions come up
  • Contacting recruitment agencies who can tell you more about specific roles and companies that pique your interest. Again, you’ll end up under their radar
  • Looking at job descriptions and what skills and attributes they are looking for
  • If you get the opportunity, job shadowing or taking up secondments to test out interesting jobs.

This step can and will seem tedious but it is worth the effort and time investment. When it becomes exciting and interesting, you know you’re onto something good.

Perseverance is key at this important stage and you might become obsessive if you don’t get any instant results. Just keep referring back to your diagram and make sure your efforts are in line with what you want.

When you do become more confident in the direction you want to go or specialising in a particular sector or way of working, begin your job search. The whole point of this concept though is always look back on your litmus paper test, really check to see if the job or career you’re looking at fits with your formula, preferred culture and professional motivation.

It is likely that although you might not be instantly ready to take up a perfect job or career when you see it, it will be the spark of inspiration you need to start developing the required skills and attributes, and if necessary the relevant qualifications. This process itself will eventually make your search more focussed on elements that haven’t been eliminated from previous litmus tests and you may end up, by process of elimination, getting a Eureka! moment on which sector you would fit well into.

Do keep in mind throughout the process that if you have an idea of what you want to do, and you know you’ll be really good at it, explore the option of a side-hustle or setting up your own business. They’re topics worthy enough of posts of their own, which I will be writing soon, but in the meantime spend some time on looking into the really interesting world of entrepreneurship.

I sincerely hope that the idea (and it is only that) of testing interesting roles, careers and sectors against your job litmus paper test has inspired you to realise there is another way of getting closer to finding job satisfaction. I also hope it has quashed any deflation after another idea that there isn’t a perfect career for everyone, but instead a spectrum of possibilities based on varying combinations of your Venn diagram.

This is the last of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. If you missed the first four, you can find them here: A secret about finding your perfect career; Too many interests to choose a career; 6 signs of toxic and healthy work cultures; and Professional motivation.

 

* Not coincidentally

 

Planning your career in 2018

So 2017 is behind us. Where did it go? Did you manage to accomplish everything you wanted to do, or did one thing or another get out of hand and time just simply slipped away? It’s OK, it can happen. Life gets in the way and sometimes certain commitments overtake others.

So, as 2018 kicks off, here are 3 really easy steps on how you can take more control of your career planning in the new year, whether you fell behind in 2017 or not.

Step one: look at what you did (and didn’t do) in 2017

Before making a start on what you want your career to look like in 2018, you will need to evaluate what was and wasn’t done this year. This isn’t an exercise to give you a hard time or dwell on mistakes; it’s about making a simple bullet point list of each the things you accomplished and things that got side-tracked. The list of accomplishments provides you the self-reflection every professional needs time to do, while also laying down the ground work for next year, for example, you might have completed a level 3 course, so 2018 might involve looking at level 4. But for now, focus on what was done.

Then you can focus on what you didn’t do, and determine what got in the way. For example, you might have wanted to be promoted this year but didn’t; why was this? Lack of skills? Lack of insight to what is required for a promotion? Your company doesn’t really offer promotion opportunities? Write, or keep note of your answer to this.

Step two: look at what you want to realistically accomplish in 2018

The key word here is ‘realistically’. You need to keep your eagerness to be a highflier by tomorrow in check and keep timescales realistic. This helps give you accurate deadlines that can actually be met, rather than thinking you have failed somehow by not meeting a deadline you set that was improbable in the first place. This will be put you in a place of defeat and potentially stop you in your tracks when you could have made steady progress to your goals in a controlled pace.

You will want to begin by understanding the direction you generally want to go in. This can be in 1, 5, 10 years etc., from now, but where is the focus? The master plan? For example, if you are an insurance professional and one day you want to be a manager. It might not be in 2018, but that’s where you want to head for now. It also might not be the actual end goal and for now it seems that far away, it’s not a clear picture as of yet. That’s fine, for now you can focus on what will get you closer to being an insurance manager that will be accomplish-able in 2018?

Begin your list with the areas you might want to explore on the things you had accomplished in 2017. As avid doers, we don’t rest on our laurels when we’ve completed something, we want to see where the next step is, where can this take us, how can we get even better? It might not necessarily be closely related to it, but can feed an idea as a starting point to your list. For example, you might have been promoted in 2017. Well done! Now what? You might want to explore how you can understand the new position fully by doing a particular thing, or upping your game by patching over some skill gaps you’ve only just discovered now that you’ve started the new role.

You can then move onto the things you didn’t do while being mindful of the reasons why you didn’t do them. To eliminate any out of date stuff, determine if there are any objectives you didn’t meet because they no longer relevant to your role, or what you want to do. If they’re not important, don’t include them in your 2018 plan. Then, anything left over, you can decide to bring forward into 2018 as they will still be relevant and play a part in your development and progress. Feel free to tweak them in certain ways so that they make sense.

Then the final consideration for step two is to include any new areas you want to cover in 2018, any new objectives, that aren’t covered by the lists above. Anything new that would help you in your master plan.

Step three: bridging the ‘now’ to the ‘then’

Now you need to bridge between where you are now, and where you want to be by the end of 2018. To do this, you need to understand what is needed to get you there and detail this into a particular objective. For example ‘getting good at maths’ is a good start if you have recently been put in charge of handling budgets, but it’s not really quantifiable. It’s not giving you any recipe to make sure that is completed. You know you need to ‘get good at maths’ but how are you going to do this? Make it easy for yourself by laying out the steps you need to do to get good, for example ask sign up to a course, buy a book (a popular genre is along the lines of ‘finance for non-financial managers’), understand financial terminology (a glossary from a search engine should do the trick), or simply make a conscious effort to ask more questions from those who have more experience than you when you don’t understand a particular concept.

If you know where you want to be by the end of 2018 but you’re not entirely sure how to get there then make it your mission to understand that. Make that as one of your objectives. You can then break it down into a step-by-step recipe, as above, for example research on the internet, online resources about particular careers, look up courses, find information in books, or simply ask people face-to-face.

You could start with your line manager, as you should already be having conversations about your career anyway – if not, make sure you do. Take control by setting a meeting up yourself with your manager so you can talk about where you want to be and what they can do to help you understand what needs to be done.

Of course, you might not be in the position to ask around too conspicuously if, for example one of your objects is to find another job, or start your own business. If this is the case, speak to those already in the career or company you want to swap to, talk to those who are already running their businesses. This will really help you get tried-and-tested steps to implement into your objectives for 2018.

What if you don’t know what to do?

I hear that. Like so many others, I have been there myself. You know you want to put your energy into a career, you feel as though you’re a wind-up toy that’s ready to be put down and speed off to success if you just knew in which direction to be dropped.

This is a whole topic in itself, and one I will cover over a number of posts in the future as I believe it’s a common problem, not to mention one that is so incredibly frustrating for those who have the avid doer attitude without an outlet to apply it (Update: I’ve now written a post on a secret to finding your perfect career here). For now though, you can still follow these steps to help you on the track of discovering what it is you want to do. That can be your end goal, or at least your master plan (ie you might not know by the end of 2018, but you can have objectives in place to help you discover). What did you do in 2017 to help you find out what you want to do? If you did nothing, why is that (note: ‘waiting for a eureka moment’ is not an acceptable answer I’m afraid)? What will you now do in 2018 to get a step closer to discovering what you want to do? One of the objectives is to certainly stay tuned to The Avid Doer as it will be covered in the not-too-distant future.

Whichever your situation, make sure 2018 has a feasible roadmap that consists of sequential steps and progressive events. And then stick to them. Your 2018 plan can of course change and be updated – it’s a living thing, and not something that’s written in concrete. But it is important it is written in one form or another, to remind you what you promised you will do in 2018.

By the time 2019 is here, you would have accomplished your list which will set you up nicely for accomplishing more amazing things in the new year, and so on.