How to achieve your personal goals by going Agile

If you work in tech, have a management position or you are just curious about different methodologies of creating projects, then you are probably already familiar with the Agile word. If you are not, don’t panic, I will explain this shortly and I will walk you through the idea of adopting it for your personal projects.

Almost everything that you have to do can be seen as a project, some might take little to no time, such as taking out the trash, and do not require a process of thinking in advance or planning for it to be completed, but others, the more complex ones, do. In our day to day life we often have a lot of small projects, but some take longer and need a lot of resources from our behalf. It is often that we drop the later kind, just because we are too busy with the first ones. Unfortunately, we also tend to have a lot of regrets about giving up on our plans, just because we felt overwhelmed about the amount of work that we should put into them.

Getting back to Agile, this is a methodology that was “thought of” in the early 90s by a group of developers who wanted to be able to deliver more value to the customers while saving the costs of bad decisions. Their idea was partially taken from the Lean process that was invented by the Japanese people in the 60’s.

Lean — define value, build based on demand, avoid waste, aim for perfection

Agile — value individuals and interactions, working products, customer collaboration and responding to change

I know these can sound very technical and abstract, but bear with me while I give it more color.

I was saying early that everything you do can be seen as a project and it is the more complex ones that are usually dropped since these require more:

  1. Planning
  2. Effort
  3. Costs
  4. Time
  5. Feedback

One can easily get distracted, give up even halfway or not start at all and postpone until one’s dead. So let’s see how we can bring the Agile concepts to the rescue since we all want to thrive in our objectives.

The core of Agile would be to take a big project, plan for it, see what this will require us to do, start small and then build in small iterations. Once a part of the project is completed then we will ask for feedback. We will incorporate this feedback and make some changes to our plans and continue with the second, third and so on, phase.

Let’s take a “real” life example, see how we can break this into smaller chunks of work and how we can define the success. Our example is building a blog. An idea that I think most of us have in the back of our mind.

Step No 1: Pre-planning

So we know we want to build a blog, here we have different areas where we would like to focus on first before even starting the project:

  • What is the name of the blog?
  • Who is our target audience?
  • What are we writing about?
  • What is our end goal for this blog?

These are all questions that I am almost sure everyone who gave this a thought has an idea about. Clearly here there might be a little bit more effort if you have any doubts on the matter.

But before even getting to the next step, you need to have those sorted out.

Step No 2: Planning for MVP

MVP stands for Minimum Value Product, you can think of this as the minimum that has to happen for your project to see the light of day. In our case this will be:

  • Infrastructure of the blog (finding a host, buying the domain, plugins etc)
  • Adding a theme to the blog
  • Choosing some basic photos ( one for the About page and perhaps a header)
  • Legal matters (disclaimers, copyright etc.)
  • Completing the About page
  • Creating a first post on the website
  • Publishing the site

Now we have an idea about what we have to do on our “project” and also the costs that will go here, for example the infrastructure will cost around x $ and perhaps the photo that will be on your sticky header will have to be bought as well.

Step No 3: Dividing and conquer

We know what we have to do for our launch, but we know we might not be able to do this all at once because we have a full time job, perhaps we are also a mom or a dad, or we have other stuff planned. If we want to give our project a chance, we want to make sure it can fit in our lifestyle. So we will assign some time to it.

The estimation part is a crucial one, because it will give you an idea of the amount of time you will have to invest. For this exercise I will do a time estimation. How much time will it take me to do each of the items above and if there are any dependencies for this.

  • Infrastructure of the blog — around 5 days I will need to do a research, compare prices and see what is the best fit for my idea
  • Adding a theme to the blog — 2 days I want to be able to customize the theme to my liking and try out a couple of layouts
  • Choosing some basic photos — 1 day since I want to search my own photos and possibly look out photos to buy
  • Legal matters (disclaimers, copyright etc.) — 5 days, I will have to watch some tutorials and maybe even talk to a legal person
  • Completing the About page — 2 days
  • Creating a fist post on the website — 2 days
  • Publishing the site — 1 sec

Since I did all the estimation I will add up what the MVP will look like in time: 17 days. I might’ve gone a little over with the time, but I am estimating knowing also my availability for this. I know I can only allocate around 2 hours per day.

Step No 4: Splitting this in chunks of work

I will make my “iteration” of one week, I would like to see how I can build my project and after each week I will evaluate my progress.

Based on the estimation above I will have the following iterations:

  • Sprint 1: Infrastructure
  • Sprint 2: Adding a theme to the blog and choosing some photos
  • Sprint 3: Legal matters
  • Sprint 4: About page, first post and clicking publish

Now I know what I have to do and what would be the success for each of my iteration. Clearly there is a buffer that I added, the week has 7 days, yet I only used 5 tops and in one week even 3.

Why did I do that? I wanted to make sure things don’t take longer, and in case they do, there is a little bit of time for maneuver.

Step No 4: Iterations

Now that I have all of my work planned out, I know from where I have to start and I have an idea of what I need to do. Also, I know exactly what the “acceptance criteria” or what completing an iteration looks like.Since I am the one implementing and owning, there isn’t someone that should accept or reject an iteration, but if I were to build that site for you, then you would be the one accepting a phase as done or ask for areas to be remade.

After each iteration I will have to see where I stand with my plan, if there are any delays or if I have to adjust. Perhaps I will have a trip planned for next week and I have to move everything or perhaps I got more time to work on this and managed to finish half of next week this week.

Also, this is a time to think in retrospective what I did well and what I could improve for the next iterations.

Step No 5: Completing MVP and preparing for next phase

Let’s say that I have launched my blog and now I have to go into the next phase. Perhaps obvious, but I will have to start planning again, just now it can be a little bit different. Now I can plan in smaller steps. I have the core launched, so I can think of all the items that I want to do in the future, but I will focus on the most important ones, the ones that I will need to do in the next iteration.

Next iteration:

  • 1 article ( I have a plan of one article per week) — 2 days
  • Create the Instagram page — 0.5 days
  • Post a couple of photos on Instagram — 1 day

Long term:

  • Create FB page
  • Promote on Instagram
  • Add affiliate links to your blog

The idea here is to add a list of all the plans you have in mind for the long term, but prioritize the next iteration in detail.

From here you will go into the next iterations and so on.

The idea behind the methodology is that you don’t have to add everything at once, also you can adjust based on the feedback. If after the first 4 iterations you realize that you don’t like how it looks, or you get some feedback from the community saying that they would like you to change something, you can do this early in the process. Since the work is divided in smaller chunks this also motivates you to keep on going and there are real results after each step.

When it comes to the personal projects we all have the tendency to think of them as a huge effort that we will eventually get to, but we never do. These get postponed on and on until we are giving up with the conclusion that it was bad timing or that perhaps if we were younger we would have gotten to them eventually. Seeing a project in a step by step approach is easier for our mind to accept and get curious about. Another very big aspect in following this approach is that you can forecast the time, money and effort. Not to mention that IF things go in a different way than planned we have the opportunity to adjust and change in the new direction.

There would be a lot of other aspects to mention in the case of Agile, but I do think that starting small and building on top of it can help motivate one to give this a try.

Traveler at heart, always looking for new places to explore and review. Book lover and leader with a strong voice, always looking for new ways to improve.