Agility and Education: Every Journey Needs a Jumpstart


I have been part of many different types of journeys over the course of my life, from cross country family vacations to sports team championships to Agile transformations. Regardless of the type of journey, I’ve found that a strong start can be the difference between reaching your goal or getting stranded. 

While most journeys have some things in common, this is an Agile marketing blog, so let’s focus on that particular flavor.

I’ve made the Agile transformation journey many times and wearing various gear. I’ve served as scrum master, product owner, coach, and leader, but regardless of the role, the theme that kept surfacing was how to make the most of learning opportunities (i.e. training and coaching) and embrace them as part of ongoing development.

I quickly realized the teams couldn’t wait until they really needed it and hope that a timely jumpstart would happen on its own. Instead, they had to proactively seek out opportunities to create the catalyst for constructive disruptions.

In other words, they had to disrupt their processes or wait for them to be disrupted.

It’s hard to make time for education in the midst of non-stop execution, but it’s definitely not impossible. I’ll show you a couple of options so you don’t shortchange your team’s capabilities or miss your deadlines.

Learning Isn’t Optional

In hindsight, taking time for immersive learning and coaching provided the timely feedback necessary for accelerated growth and incremental improvement. Unfortunately, I didn’t always appreciate its impact. 

Initially I was apprehensive to commit the time to stop and learn.

There was so much to get done, what could be the value in slowing down?

Now it seems like common sense to build in time for training and coaching as part of a transformation, but it was easy to get caught up in the demands of the day-to-day and heads down execution. 

I rationalized that the team could carve out time for personal and team development once all the urgent tasks are taken care of and we were “caught up,” but the reality was the business needs and requests were never going to decrease. 

If we waited to be caught up before we took time for development, it would simply never happen.

As a result, the urgent became the enemy of the important. Capabilities and competency couldn’t keep pace with demands on the team. This conflict drove me to take time in order to make time, which eventually helped me and my teams realize the value of coaching and training. 

Over the course of our Agile journey, these investments in immersive learning proved that any short-term setbacks, such as dips in productivity or utilization, were offset by long term, sustained gains. Our cross-functional team became capable of greater quality and faster delivery (while having a blast), thanks to the time we chose to devote to improving our capabilities. 

Make Your Jumpstart Moment Happen

If any of this sounds familiar and you want to make sure your team is building its capabilities while meeting its commitments, you have a couple of options:

  1. Build in time within your ways of working for learning and delivery in support of outcomes
  2. Blend execution and education in a single 90-day window for amazing impact

Learn While You Work

First let’s talk about how to get space for learning in the midst of getting work done.

There is no shortage of things that can take one’s attention.  We live in a fast-paced world with competing priorities.  Time is one of the most precious resources and the differentiator is how efficient and effective can you be with it.  It may feel like constant multi-tasking is the only way to stay on top of it all.  However, sometimes the best thing can be to take a step back and ensure that your efforts are having the greatest impact toward the things that matter most (balancing both near-term deliverables and long-term investments in learning).

In our day-to-day lives it’s easy to become bogged down with a heavy workload, back-to-back meetings, frequent phone calls, and a seemingly constant string of interruptions. Activity can feel like progress, but the tasks you are doing may not solve the problem of our customers, deliver value to our colleagues, or develop the capabilities of our team.

Have you heard of outcome based thinking?  Outcome based thinking is the process of setting goals and measuring progress, according to the desired effects, rather than the tactics to get those effects. The idea is to focus measurement of progress on the outcome rather than the activities.

Developing an outcome mindset means prioritizing learnings and deliverables that will have the greatest impact on helping us achieve our goals/objectives/key results and choosing to spend more time and energy on those things.  When you prioritize in this way, it is easier to see the value of dedicating time for that training while turning off notifications and sending auto-replies to let people know you will get back to them in a few days.

When outcome based thinking is fully embraced within a team, each individual can look at the work they are doing and make the right decision about what to do, when to say no, and when to say not now.  It provides the bedrock to empowerment.  Imagine being able to look at the work you are doing and knowing, truly knowing, you are focused on the right thing.  This gives the work we are doing purpose and intentionality.  Having focused and aligned priorities provides:

  • Aligned autonomy to do the most important work and achieve accountability
  • Confidence of working on right thing at the right time
  • Ability to adjust based on new information and market conditions
  • Capacity for learning that supports delivery and development

Outcome based thinking is nothing new, but admittedly easier to say than do.  If you are wondering how you and/or your team are doing with it, here are a couple questions to ask:

  1. Do you (and/or your teams) have days where you work really hard but don’t accomplish anything important?
  2. How many people measure their own (and/or their team’s) value or productivity by how “busy” they are?

If you answered yes (or even maybe), to either of the above.  It is time to challenge the 'crazy busy' status quo!

  • Focus on impact over activity
  • Be satisfied with 'done' rather than spending time chasing perfection
  • Decide what you can STOP doing

The “80/20 Rule” is one of the most helpful concepts for life and time management. Also known as the Pareto Principle, this rule suggests that 20 percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your results.

In other words, 2 out of 10 items, on any general to-do list, will turn out to be worth more than the other 8 items put together. Many of us procrastinate on the top 10 or 20 percent of items that are the most valuable and important, the “vital few,” and busy ourselves instead with the least important 80 percent, the “trivial many.”  Imagine being able to repurpose this 80 percent to learning and personal development, in addition to more value delivery.

Ruthless prioritization is just that, eliminating that which is not important.  Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, popularized Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Time Management Matrix to manage the “tyranny of the urgent”.  We often let the URGENT crowd out the IMPORTANT and as a result tend to be more reactive than proactive.

  URGENT NOT URGENT
IMPORTANT
  • Daily sales, editorial, and marketing activities
  • Customer / internal / legal / communications
  • P/L priorities and forecasting
  • Time-sensitive and deadline driven initiatives
  • Digital trend research
  • Training / learning opportunities
  • Automation and optimization
  • Innovation initiatives
  • Networking and personal growth
  • Team building
NOT IMPORTANT
  • Most meetings
  • Majority of emails and messages
  • Interruptions and distractions for others
  • Minority of emails and messages
  • Outdated procedures
  • Redundant processes
  • Unnecessary hand-offs

Being productive means being intentional about how you spend your time and on what. Some tips…

  • Block your calendar and protect that time to do your most important/impactful work. Be specific about the work you want to accomplish – it has been proven that protecting specific time vs. working on a never-ending to-do list yields higher productivity.
  • Single-task and notice how productive and satisfied you feel when you focus on completing one task.
  • Focus on results and the positive - what was accomplished today and how will tomorrow be more productive?
  • Don’t be afraid to fail and fail fast – we often put things off because of a fear of failure which bogs down our to-do list and weighs heavily on our minds.
  • Be diligent about dedicate a certain percentage of your week for learning and tracking over an extended duration (e.g. quarter) how that investment is paying off.

What you do today, tomorrow, and the next day are incremental contributions to your desired outcomes.  Envision Success and prioritize learning along with delivery in your ways of working!

Write a walk through of how to use the Covey Matrix to ensure that items that aren’t urgent but are still important (i.e. training) get room in your sprint/backlog

Force the Issue in a 90-Day Timebox

Your second option is to use a formal 90 Day Jumpstart to ensure your team can effectively blend education and execution. We’ve developed this approach to help busy marketers employ Agile ways of working and get all the benefits without hitting pause on their existing commitments.

Our 90-Day Jumpstart is an immersive experience combining best-in-class education, online tools, teamwork, practical application, and accountability.  This builds your team up to operate as a powerhouse of agility.

During the program, teams create focus by identifying value through desired outcomes, next they make commitments through their Agile planning process, and then iterate through discovery and delivery using the routines of standup, demos, and retrospectives learning and creating value as they go.

90 Day Jumpstart_Extended_v2_1

 

You may be wondering why 90 days?  Well, the quarterly rhythm is one that many teams and organizations are becoming accustomed to run on.  Additionally, it is the ideal timebox for launching and completing an initiative allowing for multiple “test and learn” iterations along the way.

I am passionate about building great teams that create connections, build community, and deliver amazing impact. We, at AgileSherpas, have developed the 90-Day Jumpstart to do just that, as these approaches are what we have been using and coaching for many years with results that speak for themselves.

Education is foundational, but transformation happens incrementally through daily discovery and delivery.  That is what sets this program apart; focus on practical, real-time application of agility.  I encourage you to learn more about the 90-Day Jumpstart on our AgileSherpas site.  If you could use help getting started, submit your application.

Disrupt Before You’re Disrupted

It took me several unfortunate jolts to believe that taking time out of my team’s work week to built their capabilities would make us more effective in the long run. By either making time using the Covey matrix or diving into a 90 Day Jumpstart, my hope is that you’ll be able to get there without the jolts.

Agile marketers need to continually seek out and build experiences that merge immersive learning and value delivery.

Our workflows are challenging; that doesn’t mean we have to choose between execution and education.

You can’t always predict when you’ll need a jumpstart along the journey, but you can infuse resiliency into your organization’s DNA and culture so that you have the capabilities to be prepared and resources to initiate on demand.