Getting Results the Agile Way


Cliched, but true : the thing I love the most about Microsoft is the chance to work with some of the smartest people around! One such guy is J.D. Meier, GPM at P&P in Microsoft by day, and amazing life-coach by night (well, in non-working-hours J)running Sources of Insight, a treasure trove of proven practices for personal effectiveness.

 

I met him in June last year to seek help managing my work schedule. It just seemed like I was putting in endless hours at work answering zillions of mail, attending hours of meetings – but it felt like I was getting lost in a sea of info and drifting endlessly without a feeling of achievement. JD introduced me to his system of Getting Results the Agile Way as a framework to help me organize my work. I LOVE agile. So, the idea of using agile principles beyond software engineering had instant appeal for me. But boy –it needed a lot of discipline to practice this each and every day! However, as I put this into use in my daily life, I realized how effectively it was helping me find my way through my amorphous barrage of work. And I thought I would share it on my blog.

 

There are 3 principles that I adopted from the system and snapshots from my One Note notebook that I use to track them:

1.       Rule of 3

2.       Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection

3.       Hot Spots

 

The Rule of 3 helps me focus. It helps me identify the top 3 results I want out of any activity(ies) and provides direction. I use this to define 3 primary outcomes I want off each day and each week. At the start of every day, I list these 3 outcomes and direct my day accordingly.

 

Monday Vision helps define 3 outcomes I want for the week, daily outcomes track 3 key results for the day and each Friday, I update my weekly results based on how well I did on my outcomes through the week. Since I have a backlog of outcomes built up already, each day, I can pick the top 3 prioritized backlog items to attack in a day. It’s simple agile! Friday reflection functions as a retrospective on what went well and where I can improve things for the next week. This provides a clean start each week.

 

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The 2 items below the blue line are not really outcomes – they are tasks. So, they are not part of the big 3 for the day, but I put them down as a todo list so I make sure to complete those to achieve the outcomes listed

 

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Monthly results are a great way to track your outcomes each month so you don’t have to scramble at annual review J It helps if you pick a theme for each month so you run that as a background thread in all the activities you do that month. Here is a partial snapshot of one of my monthly results with some confidential info blurred out

 

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Hot spots are useful to identify the key areas of your life/work that you want to focus on. It’s useful to list this to ensure you are not working on too many things( which is one of my chronic problems). I currently classify this as work-in-progress 😀

 

Surprisingly, all the practices in the system take very little time to do. For instance, I spend barely 10 minutes in my One Note each day tracking this. Also, a very pleasant side effect of this was that it stopped me being constantly driven by Outlook. I regularly hit zero mail on my inbox every day, despite getting over a 150 pieces of mail explicitly directed to me! People at MSFT especially, will realize what a wonderful feeling this is! J All my pending items are tracked in my unified prioritized backlog and other mail is acted upon immediately.

 

JD received so many positive responses to his system that he has now converted this into a book. I strongly recommend the book to anyone that wants to achieve more effective results. Bonus points if you already believe in agile development. There are more aspects of the book like planning your week, managing energy and working by themes that I haven’t tried yet, but I am hoping to try sometime soon.

 

Do you have practices that make you more effective? I’d love to hear from you!

Comments (6)

  1. J.D. Meier says:

    Thank you for your kind words.

    Beautiful job on your walkthrough.  It's very easy to follow and your examples help light it up.

    It's alo great to see how you went from overwhelmed to on top of your game, and from buried in email to a zero inbox.

    Well done.

  2. nitro52 says:

    Thats very insightful. I have a few questions though, what are the defining characteristics between  outcomes and tasks and how come you don't treat them the same. also what do you do if you do not complete an outcome. does it carry over to the next day?

    [Anu] GREAT question, Ryan. I struggled with that a bit myself initially. It's like epics and stories. Outcomes themselves have a bunch of tasks that they can be broken down to. I write those down to help me remember. Other than those, there are always a bunch of straggler tasks that are not tied to one specific outcome. Now, if that list gets really big, I need to add an outcome that says "Catch up with misc issues" to allow for a chunk of time. But over time, this list rarely builds up to that extent that I need to make that a large focus. Including non-outcome related tasks in the daily backlog also makes you realize how much overhead you are having. Some of these are cuttable – and seeing it in your face helps you cut down on overhead.

  3. Abhinab says:

    Anu thanks for the great write up and bringing this to my noitice. Thanks to JD Meier as well. I am trying to implement. Your next trip we should catch up on how it's going.

    [Anu] Hi Abhinab – I am in Redmond the next week – see ya then :)

  4. nitro52 says:

    Hi Anu, Before reading your blog i had intended to write myself a personal organizer for WP7. Your blog inspired me to change my approach splightly to the Agile way. the first release was submitted this week, i'd love to hear your thoughts. http://www.praethin.com/…/Mypa.aspx

     

    [Anu] Ryan – sorry for seeing this late. Lemme check out your app right away

  5. John Quincy says:

    I am still amazed at how some CIOs are fooled by the lure of 'agile'.  They have absolutely no clue as to the permanent wounds that will be left in an organization once the genie is unleashed.  Fantastic developers become disgruntled coders.  Lazy coders become… well actually they stay the same.  And mediocre programmers become lazy coders.  

    Check out this hilarious video as to why a CIO would even consider agile in the first place.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch

    John

    [Anu] :) Any methodology applied the wrong way can be counter productive. The Agile principles are really simple and appealing AND have had proven success stories. Of course, like any other transition, this one too has its set of challenges. If you have tried Agile development and it hasn't worked for you, I recommend you take a fresh look at the basics and get some help from Agile coaches online. And of course, there are situations where Agile may not be suitable – there is no point force fitting a methodology in those cases.

  6. Arshad says:

    What do you think of Stephen Covey's approach towards time management? That would qualify as agile(flexible) too I think.

    [Anu] My ex-manager is a big fan and he was pretty good with time mgmt. Never gave it a shot though. What do you think?