Accomplishing Personal Goals Using Agile

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In a recent podcast, I encouraged my listeners to break their personal goals or objectives into small tasks that could be accomplished fast so that they could see and celebrate their successes quicker and, in so doing, be able to identify and course correct when things were not going as planned.

Today, I’m going to expand on this topic by introducing the Agile mindset, principles, and practices that will enhance your ability to identify meaningful goals, break those goals down into small consumable pieces of work, and enable you to track the progress of these goals.

First, you may be asking, “What the heck is Agile?” And more importantly, “Why should I care?” If you google “What is Agile?”, you’ll get about 160 million different results. Well, to be honest, I didn’t count them all; but take my word for it, there are a lot. The reality is that the answers to these two questions will vary with each Agile practitioner you ask. Agile is not a one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter process. Its frameworks can vary depending on the needs of each organization and/or individual that chooses to use it.

For me, personally, Agile is a mindset—one that I base every aspect of my life on. It governs how I think and act, not only at work but at home. This mindset is built on values like honesty, openness, respect, and courage. In turn, these values are the foundations upon which effective communication, collaboration, focus, and continuous improvement are built.

Now, let’s talk about how an Agile mindset can help you achieve your personal goals. Before you write down or commit to any goals, I want you to establish a vision based on the goals you want to accomplish and why. The why of your vision is as important, if not more so than the what. This is where honesty and courage come into play. What does your vision look like? What are the goals you must achieve to fulfill this vision? Why do you want to accomplish these goals? What is the motivation behind them? How will they benefit you, your family, and your community? Will these goals help you to achieve your overall vision for your future? And most importantly, is this really your vision; or are you piggy backing on someone else’s vision? If you are not honest with yourself regarding your why, you could be setting yourself up for failure before you even begin.

All right, you’ve established a vision that you believe in—one that answers all of your questions, to include your why. Now it’s time to figure out how you are going to achieve your vision. Think about what it will take to make this vision a reality: Consider the time it will take, how much it will cost, what steps/actions you will have to take, etc. Don’t drill down too deep yet, just look at the whole picture, then prioritize and identify any dependencies. Dependencies are tasks that must be achieved before others can begin. Simply put, the tasks depend on each other.

Now that you’ve identified and prioritized any dependencies, it’s time to look at what may keep you from achieving your goals and fulfilling your vision. In Agile, these are referred to as blockers. This list might be very similar to what it will take to make the vision a reality: Lack of time, not enough money, etc. Spoiler alert: this is usually the point in the process when your inner critic/saboteur will try to sneak in through the back door and make you doubt your abilities. We will deal with this sneaky character in a separate blog. For now, ignore this ignominious foil. Stay focused on your vision and why it’s important. Remember, there will always be “distractions” and “distractors.” However, if you stay focused it will be harder for your energy to be diverted.

The next step in the process is to discover ways to overcome the blockers. If a blocker involves time or money, you may need to talk to your family—and possibly your boss if you need to take time off work. This is where honesty, communication, and collaboration are so important. Be honest about what you are wanting to accomplish and include how this will be of benefit, not only to you but also to them.

For every blocker you’ve identified, list the different ways you can overcome them. Honestly, there may be some things you can’t overcome in the near term. Evaluate how each blocker will affect the goals and the overall vision you are trying to accomplish. You may have to change certain priorities or think of other ways to accomplish what you want.

Next, you will want to:

(1)  Break the vision down into small goals that can be accomplished in a short period of time. Then look at and prioritize each of these smaller goals and identify any dependencies. If necessary, break these smaller goals down into micro-goals—even smaller goals that can be achieved in an even shorter period of time.

(2)  Create a plan, implement the plan, and update it.

At this point, we’ve started to move into Agile practices. Now we’re going to make our plan visible; you can do this with an actual physical board or a virtual board. 

Here’s what I do:  I take my prioritized goals and write them down on 3×3 post-it notes, then I place them on a whiteboard that has 4 columns:

  • Backlog – this is where all goals are initially placed
  • Discovery – this is when I am ready to start collecting all the detailed information about a specific goal(s)
  • In Progress – the name says it all, the goal is moved as soon as I start working on it
  • Completed – the goal is moved here when it is fully accomplished

The post-it notes are moved through the columns from left to right. The closer the post-it note is to the top of the column, the higher its priority. In an upcoming blog/podcast, I will discuss the different criteria required to move a post-it note from one column to another to include such topics as “Done” and Work in Progress (WIP).

Figure 1 is a picture of my actual physical whiteboard.

Figure 1 – Personal Goals Whiteboard

You can also create a virtual board to accomplish the same thing. There are many virtual board applications on the market, such as Jira, Mural, Trello, Rally, etc. However, I happen to like Trello,, because it’s easy to use and to maintain; plus it is suitable for a single user and more importantly it’s free, with some feature limitations of course.

Figure 2 is from a Trello board that I created specifically for this blog.  It took me less than ten minutes to accomplish. As you can see, this virtual Trello board is structured exactly like the physical board. To add a new column, click the “+ Add another list” button. As you can see, this button is located to the right of the “Done” column. To add a card in a column, go to the bottom of the column and click the “+ Add another card” button. You can also grab a card with your mouse and move it anywhere on the board that you want.

Figure 2 – Personal Goals Trello Board

There are many more standard features available for you to use. To learn more about these features, click the “Butler” button, which is located in the upper right-hand corner.

Figure 3 – Butler Page

Now here’s the kicker, both in your personal goals as well as at work: This board is only useful as long as you keep the information updated. It’s as simple as that. If you lack the discipline and dedication to maintain the board then don’t bother creating it. Seriously people, it will not update itself.

So . . . fast forward . . .

You’ve prioritized your goals; you’ve written them on post-it notes, and you’ve put them on your tracking board (physical or virtual). You’re working through your goals, updating them, possibly making priority modifications based on changes, and you’re seeing small accomplishments on a regular basis.

At some point in time, you should reevaluate your vision and goals. How are you feeling about what you’ve accomplished? What have you learned in the process of working on your goals? What did you learn when something didn’t work out the way you planned it? How valid is your vision today? What has kept you from moving forward on a goal(s)? This is an Agile practice that is known as a Retrospective; where you will periodically set aside time to review what you have worked on, ask yourself the questions I just mentioned, then determine if there are any actions you need to take as a result of your retrospective. Action items get turned into additional goals, prioritized, and placed on your board.

That’s it!!! We’ve covered a lot of ground in a short period of time.  I hope that this blog will get you started. For more information, check out my podcast on spotify:

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