At Home with Agile
2023 is here, and I’m not ready. As the project manager at QIC, I ensure that our project objectives are met using techniques rooted in the Agile methodology. No project has felt too daunting to manage nor a team too challenging to collaborate with. Yet here I am, staring January in the face, terrified of how I will manage my family and household. I need a plan. I need help. There’s going to be a crib-to-bed transition. Potty training. Swimming, ballet, soccer, gymnastics, skating, and karate classes. It’s. All. Too. Much. How to stem the hysteria? How to tackle this overwhelm?
I repeat I’m a capable, successful project manager. Can’t I use the same tools at home to bring order to the chaos? As it turns out, I’m late to this revelation. According to Bruce Feiler (TED talk), Agile was just what his household needed to “cut parental screaming in half.” I was simultaneously floored and elated. I had spent a decade working on mastering a framework that I could have been using in my personal life all along.
I will spare you the history and details of Agile, but if you’re interested, here is an excellent place to start. In short, the purpose of Agile is to make progress in an ever-changing environment, utilizing an empirical process to make decisions to ensure we move the needle in the right direction. As we understand at QIC, R&D contracts often come with many unknowns, having to meet tight timelines and budgets while leaving room for exploration, collaboration, and adaptation. Using Agile principles, our team meets at predictable regular intervals to regroup and connect to share progress and information to continue to improve and deliver value.
On the home front, my husband and I connect after the kids’ bedtime to have a warming beverage and look at the day ahead. This often involves laughing over who cried more, us or the kids, and ways to reduce tears. This is similar to the sprint retrospective when the team discusses ways to work better together to avoid recurring problems. It is also like the daily standup when the team shares what they will be doing for the day, enabling them to communicate roadblocks early, and assist where necessary. Granted, we may not have much progress involving our 2yo and 5yo kids in these discussions despite being key stakeholders; I would like to think that very soon they will be. Empowering them to participate in the process will hopefully lead to cooperation and a happy home life.
Agile applied in the home is a compelling idea, one that I’m willing to try this year. If I fail, at least I’ll be failing fast! Would you try any of these approaches to household management in your personal life? What skills do you hone in your workplace that you could apply at home?
Recognizing and Learning from Failure: Project Management Lessons from a Colorado Summit Bid
While failure is no fun, it is a part of life. Whether summitting mountains or managing projects, there are times when one must recognize the signs of failure, make the tough decision to call it a day, and learn from the experience to return smarter and stronger next time.
This past summer, I took a vacation to Colorado which was a blast. Three days on the agenda consisted of backpacking into the Chicago Basin, camping, and summiting 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet). I had no prior mountaineering experience though was with someone who did, and we planned extensively. I had the right gear, was in good shape, and the conditions were ideal; I was feeling confident. On the second day, as I attempted a second summit, I began feeling fatigued, making mental errors, and falling behind. Though I tried to press on, I was aware that poor decisions and continued mistakes, especially near the summit, could be catastrophic (see Wickens, Keller, & Shaw, 2015).
I made the difficult call to abandon the summit bid and hiked down to lower elevation. Watching the beautiful sunrise over the basin lakes, I began to reflect on the failure, thinking about it in terms of project management given a summit bid, like a project, is “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique…result” (Project Management Institute, 2008, p. 5). Though a project manager (PM) never plans to fail, they do identify the risks and notice the potential signs of failure so that they can correct course. As a last resort, a responsible PM may decide it is best to call it quits before stakeholder and company losses become too great.
Recognizing the Signs
In a Project Management Institute (PMI) published article "Managing Troubled Projects", Alaskar (2013) outlines signs that a project may be in jeopardy. Several of these apply to my summit bid:
Learning from Failure
In another PMI published article, Ranganath (2006) presents a learning from experience (LifE) cycle for project management that applies to dealing with project failure. The cycle involves:
Though it may be a bit painful, tell us about a project failure whether work related or not. If you like to climb mountains, tell us about that too!
Alaskar, A. H. (2013). Managing troubled projects. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2013—North America, New Orleans, LA. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Project Management Institute. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK guide) (4th ed.). Project Management Institute.
Ranganath, P. G. (2006). LIfE—learning and improving from experience. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2006—North America, Seattle, WA. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Wickens, Christopher D.; Keller, John W.; and Shaw, Christopher (2015) "Human Factors in High-Altitude Mountaineering," Journal of Human Performance in Extreme Environments: Vol. 12 : Iss. 1 , Article 1.
These posts are written or shared by QIC team members. We find this stuff interesting, exciting, and totally awesome! We hope you do too!