Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Year of Being Agile -- Responding to change over following a plan

As part of my year of being agile, I'm going to explore each of the four values in my Agile Magic Manifesto in order to a) help create actionable items and b) define my own plan for the year (one of the secret benefits to blogging is that writing about stuff helps you get shit straight in your own head).

If there's one thing you take away from CircleThrice, take this: Planning is necessary, but it's not sufficient. Obviously I believe that planning is a good thing. Check out this whole post on why. But in order to be successful you need to a) get started and keep going and b) adjust your plan as you go. The latter is what we're covering here.

Responding to change is absolutely necessary in order to reach your goal. Because everything changes -- all the time. It's the nature of reality. And in our current reality things not only change, but they change rapidly, unexpectedly, and abruptly. You have to be on top of change because if you aren't, your plan will rapidly become useless.
If change is coming fast and frequently, then you need to also respond fast and frequently. That means checking your observations against your plan regularly and adjusting course immediately. Because if you take too long to respond to change, by the time you do things will have changed again.

Personal anecdote. When I was a baby technical writer -- all of 19 years old -- I interned at a company ($5 per hour) that had the worst micro-manager owner ever. He insisted on reviewing every single change to the user documentation personally. Not just my changes, but the changes of my highly experienced and well-educated boss. We were required to print the page with and without the change, highlight the change, staple the two pages together, and place them on his desk for review and approval. Seriously, add a comma, submit a change.

Now apart from being just bat-shit crazy, this was about the least sustainable idea ever. Because of course he didn't have time to review all the changes (shoot, with all the micro-managing he did he barely had time to, you know, run his own company). So by the time he'd review a change, that change had already been superseded by another change. Eventually we just stopped bothering to submit the changes to the teetering pile on his desk.

Trust me, you don't have time for all this bullshit and "New Status Quo" is NOT your goal

In order to adjust to change, you have to accept the idea of change. And I mean really accept it, emotionally, intellectually, and practically. Because you can't waste time mourning what might have been. I've had jobs go from "job charming" (note, not the job described above) to total shit in a matter of months. I have a kid who's been in seven educational settings in nine years. And our family has dealt with the kind of catastrophe that changes all the things.

Now some plans aren't easy to change. Like the Titanic they turn slowly (if at all). Also like the Titanic they can fail rapidly (three years to build, 160 minutes to sink). For a high change environment, this is the not the kind of plan you need. So start by assuming that every environment is a high change environment. You need a plan for that.

That's where agile comes in. You plan, yes. But your plan is constructed with change in mind. The small incremental chunks of work, the regular cycle of status checking, the ongoing evaluation and adjustment. All designed to handle change. But if you don't face the change head on, none of it will matter.

Ignore the change and you risk finding your goals are the wrong goals after you've reached them -- or that you can't succeed at all. Fight against the change and you bring on failure even more rapidly. Embrace the change, react to it, own it, embrace it -- that's where success lies. And above all, as a magician, adjust to MAKE the change you want and adjust to what the universe delivers.

So open your mind and heart to change. Because it's coming and you just can't change that.

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