Agile: Not Just for Software Developers

Agile: Not Just for Software Developers

“Let’s create a backlog for all the things you want to do,” I tell my friend, Joe, trying to convince him to give Scrum a try in helping to manage his ever-growing personal to-do list. “Then we’ll pick the highest priority things and you can focus on those for the next two weeks.”

At the end of those two weeks, Joe had started on a bunch of things, but hadn’t finished much. “I think your ‘stories’ need to be smaller and you need to limit your WIP,” I advise. “Finish some of these before you start on anything new.”

After breaking down some of his bigger stories into more manageable chunks, the next two weeks showed much more progress – and some of the projects that had been on his to-do list for months were finally done! He was an agile convert!

Agile, No Matter What the Situation

There’s something about checking off an item as complete that really gets your endorphins flowing. That was a comment from a student in an Agile Boot Camp I recently taught for a bunch of engineers that were not software developers.

At first, they were very skeptical about using agile, feeling like the concepts really wouldn’t apply (because in their field, they needed to know the entire design up front).

However, the more I described various techniques for creating smaller stories and continually checking in for feedback, the more head nods I got from the class that showed that they could see advantages of working in a more agile manner.

There are certain concepts, such as working collaboratively with customers, breaking tasks up into manageable pieces and continually “inspecting and adapting” that make sense no matter what domain you work in.

I recently wrote an article about personal Scrum giving examples of ways Scrum is being used outside of software development and was especially impressed with the creative use of Scrum in wedding planning by Hannah Kane and Julia Smith in their business venture, Scrum Your Wedding.

The article I wrote generated comments including a reference to the book, "Agile Kids," which promotes the use of agile techniques to empower kids to be in control of their tasks while still respecting parental authority.

The Tools to Manage Anything

Agile concepts and techniques are proven project management and leadership practices that work well both in business and in personal life, regardless of your profession.

You don’t have to be a software developer or techie to jump on the bandwagon. Start by learning some of the terminology and concepts, and then if you want to get some experience, try using the concepts to manage your personal to-do list.

Elicit a friend and work together on some of the tasks. Spend some time after each iteration to host a retrospective so you can “inspect and adapt.”

Mike Cohn describes how he uses Scrum in his personal life using tools like Things and Asana. I’ve used Trello, a free, easy tool that provides a task board that will help you visualize your workflow.

Don’t get too caught up in tools if you’re new to agile, though. Simply using a pen and paper or even notecards or sticky notes is fine and even encouraged in agile circles.

Undoubtedly, as agile techniques continue to become trendy in everyday life, people will start to refer to their “backlog” or suggest they should “time box” an activity or “limit their WIP.” So, why not get ahead of the game?

Do you use agile techniques in your personal life or to manage your own to-do list? What are creative ways you’ve seen agile used outside of software development?




Yvette Francino has more than 30 years in the software development industry, and is an independent consultant, experienced agile leader, coach, author and trainer in various methodologies including SAFe, Scrum, Kanban and large-scale custom methodologies.

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