(At least) 5 Ways Agile Isn’t Just for Techies


Aubrey Wade

Agile Beginnings

The Agile Manifesto was created in 2001 by 14 software developers in Snowbird, Utah. Because technologists wrote it, it's common for most people to believe that Agile is “just a tech thing.” In reality, everyday people in every industry subconsciously use the core Agility principles and many even have an Agile mindset for their everyday tasks – all the while not knowing the Agile way is profession-agnostic. 

Being an Agilist, those unfamiliar with Agile often tell me they have no idea what I do or that they could never do my job. For most professions, I’m usually able to translate my job into something digestible or relatable – for those who I can’t, I explain it by saying, “I specialize in process optimization and help companies get happy people building happy products.” In reality, I don’t specialize in technology; I specialize in people. I think the best way to explain my tech role is to say I help people get out of their way to improve their world through Agile thinking. This approach, of course, is agnostic to any pillar of enterprise. Whether in HR, Marketing, filmmaking, care-taking, financials, or events, sometimes we all need help taking a step back and looking at the whole so we can zoom back in to improve the pieces and put them back together. Agile thinking is one of my superpowers. Agility and efficiency make me excited! 

The Agile way is a part of everyone’s ordinary life
If you and I were to have a ten-minute conversation about what your daily life looks like, I am sure I could show you multiple ways that Agile principles show up in your life. You can be a full-time, at-home parent trying to manage kids and family schedules or a lawyer trying to keep track of everything you need to do in the day. How about a contractor who’s coordinating the building of a house? I would bet I can find some principles in their approach! Most reasonably organized folks probably have a mini Kanban board at their desk or office, and little do they know that they are employing basic Agile processes in their day-to-day lives.

Agile is about continuous improvement, inspection, and adaptation. In the great words of Ross Gellar from Friends, the Agile approach is knowing when to PIVOT! 

These core values of Agile can be adopted or realized anywhere in an enterprise or your life and have tremendous benefits. The Agile core values are:

  • Provide transparency in what you’re doing
  • Take time to inspect and adapt, and learn from your mistakes
  • Make iterative improvements 
  • Pivot and try again; don’t give up (but don’t do the same thing over and over)
  • Be willing to fail – allow mistakes, big or small
  • Collaborate!

To demonstrate this, I’ve shared a few examples below of ways Agile methodology touches our daily lives: 

1.  Agility in Parenting

Parenting itself is about managing transformation continually. We don’t always get parenting right, but most parents always try to be better, and we don’t give up, even when it's hard. When parents are at our best, we try different approaches to meet our kids where they are – after all; they are humans too! Our job as parents is to get our kids where they need to be to grow into the best possible version of themselves. But, another primary goal is to get out of their way so they can run their own lives eventually – this is where Agile comes in.

With my girls– aged 9 to 20– I realize I can’t parent them the same, right? I would, indeed, not be a successful parent! I don’t always get it right the first time. As I said earlier, I strive to meet them where they are, understand them and what they are going through and show genuine empathy for their struggles. It’s about iterative improvements. Trying and then trying again, doing something, reviewing, taking what you learn, and trying again until you get it right. This is how we as parents try to be better parents, right? We don’t just tell our kids, “Ok, this is the only level of good parent I will ever be. You’re stuck with it. Suck it up, buttercup!” No. We try to be the best versions of ourselves, so they will try to be the best versions of themselves. We lead by example. And by doing that, we are employing agile principles inherently.

2.  Agility in Cooking

How many of us are exact recipe followers? Are you someone that likes to add flair to a recipe–  a little of this or a little of that–to add a little extra oomph? Perhaps you are an artist with food and use a blank slate, creating masterpieces from scratch!

Whatever culinary path you choose, you may not realize it, but when you are cooking, especially by the recipe: putting it together, tasting, then tweaking it, tasting it again, and trying it again– this is all continuous, iterative improvement. This back and forth is all agile!

You can also take “iterative” to another level when cooking, when you consider making dairy-free or vegetarian/vegan versions of your favorite meals. We call this pivoting with ingredients, or when you don’t have something specific in the pantry. These are all pivoting on Agile principles in that we take something that we love and currently works the way it is, and we pivot to make it fit into a new mold to make it slightly different, better, or equally as wonderful.

3.  Agility in Household Activities

Think back to the last time you were doing things around your house. Your to-do list may look something like this: 

  • Clean the house
  • Make the bed
  • Hang clothes
  • Wash dishes
  • Yard work

Do you take time and draw out these chores, overcomplicating them whenever you can? Or do you try to improve your process to get them over with as quickly and efficiently as possible?

It is human nature to iteratively improve how we do these tasks to speed them up or get them done more efficiently. This iterative improvement, or continually trying to improve our surroundings and what we do, are basic Agile principles. Sometimes, we make housework, particularly yard work, competitive and try to beat our records and compete with family members or neighbors. These iterative improvements to help us succeed are agility at their best. 

4.  Agility in Healthcare

Especially in the last two years, we’ve heard so much about innovations in healthcare; with vaccines, medical research, and specialized treatments, the list could go on. And when we encounter some of the most complicated medical mysteries, you hear of teams of doctors trying new or experimental treatments to heal or improve the quality of human lives. 

When medical professionals' traditional care methods fail, they often have to lean on research or try other methods. We see this a lot more in research and learning hospitals. The medical profession has always been willing to learn from the failures they experience, take the data back to their labs, pivot/iterate, and try again to save or improve more lives. However, Covid-19 has forced us to be vulnerable and willing to try things we may not usually be willing to do. These are all Agile principles: failing fast, pivoting, iterating quickly, learning fast, trying again, and at the least, never giving up. To be agile is to save lives in many cases.  

5. Agility in Working Relationships

Working with people in a professional capacity is also the perfect example of utilizing the Agile mindset. Working relationships are how I’ve grown in my job in Agile from Day One. Someone who’s not learning isn’t growing, and growing/improving is the key to agility. 

When I started at Nexient at the end of March 2021, I was participating in a virtual orientation when I heard someone say that they were from a company I worked with previously and knew many of their former senior leaders. We private messaged and made connections with familiar friends and colleagues. She informed me she learned much about “the business side” from her time there, but she was now serendipitously working with me in tech. I told her I had a similar road, knew a lot about “the tech side,” and wanted to get better educated on business leadership, so we arranged a meeting of the minds. I loved this idea because I’ve wanted to enter enterprise business development for a long time. 

Fast forward one month, and we found ourselves on the same program in our respective areas, and I heard she is our account leader, the person in charge of helping teams face some considerable challenges at the time. As we started digging into our roles, I helped her with Agile education, technical details, and vernacular, while she educated me on business savvy and ideals. We made the partnership official, and it was a great time connecting, collaborating, and improving our teams in what we are doing for our clients. 

Over the next year, we completed one of the most significant transformations in which I’ve ever participated and worked with one of the best teams I’ve ever served. I’m so proud of it, and I can confidently say it was my most complex professional accomplishment.  

These kinds of “you know this, and I know that” relationships are crucial to project success in work and life. Leaders who invest in team members with different backgrounds and experiences and also lead with persistence, guidance, and patience create more well-rounded, successful teams. By tasking true collaboration, they are creating a lifetime of comradery within their teams and forging close working and even personal relationships.

In conclusion

Agile transformations are among the most taxing things we go through in any job, or honestly, most facets of life. We must remember to lead with empathy when we serve our clients, coworkers, spouses, kids, or anyone else we must presently prioritize. We try to manage so much: lead teams, teach, guide, and create content all at the same time while living through an ongoing global pandemic, working from home, being whatever our families need us to be, and doing what's asked of us for our employees in our day-to-day working lives. Agile is a life lesson to make things easier when we have too many plates in the air.

In teaching people ages 6-60 how to work the Agile way daily, I have learned that Agile is a way of improving life’s processes and isn’t just for us in the tech sphere. One of my favorite aspects of my job is helping and teaching others about Agile, the methods, the benefits, and how to do it. Even more so when we partner with departments/teams, not just in the IT space, and help those teams with process improvement and best practices that can change their lives for the better. 

While I am not a “trained techie,” here I am in IT, thanks to the Agile way of thinking. I love the Agile world and appreciate what it brings to all areas of work and life. I work in tech - but even better - I get to work with people and help those people make authentic change that improves their lives - who else can say that with confidence?

Anyone can do Agile, and most people already do!

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