Embracing a Revitalized AgileDC
Returning to the AgileDC Conference was a heartening experience as it signified a return to pre-pandemic levels of participation. The conference's comprehensive array of speaking sessions, ranging from Team Agility to Agile Contracts and Restructuring Agile Departments, exemplified the enduring relevance of Agile methodologies. I had the privilege of reconnecting with old friends and meeting fellow agilists whom I had previously only interacted with online, and it was a powerful reminder of how supportive and resilient the Agile community is.
This year, I was honored to be selected for a speaking session. My speaking session at AgileDC was rooted in a blog post I had authored some months prior, titled "Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast." The central premise is that, in our relentless pursuit of efficiency, we often bypass the vital step of slowing down. Paradoxically, this haste leads to costly errors that slow us down more than if we had initially prioritized quality and thoughtfulness. In this two-part blog series - I’ll expand on that original blog post and summarize my speaking session (slides attached for viewing).
The Busy Paradox: Is Busyness an Indicator of Importance?
Today, it is not uncommon for the "busyness" of our lives to serve as a status symbol. Many of us cram our days with a plethora of activities, believing that a full schedule equates to a fulfilling life. But it's crucial to ask ourselves whether this busyness genuinely reflects a rich and meaningful life, or if it's merely a perpetual cycle of tasks and distractions. This question challenges us to reflect on our priorities.
This is evident in our calendars. How many of our leaders and employees have back-to-back meetings all day? How many are double and triple-booked at times? The excessive amount of time we devote to meetings is a problem. Research highlights that employees dedicate 30-50% of their time to meetings, of which a staggering 60% are considered futile. In related statistics, this overabundance of busyness has resulted in 66% of individuals being unable to effectively prioritize their work. As someone who spends about 50% of their time in meetings, I am intimately acquainted with this challenge. When we are in these back-to-back meetings, we are not giving our brains the time to slow down and make connections. We immediately boxed the information we had in one meeting, throwing it to the side and jumping into another.
It’s no wonder with those statistics that burnout has emerged as a pressing concern, with a remarkable 77% of employees experiencing it at some point in their careers. This issue has prompted organizations and economists to invest heavily in burnout research (topping $190 Billion in 2022), driven by its direct link to turnover and reduced work quality. Burnout extends beyond the workplace, affecting individuals' well-being, family life, and overall health. Consequently, employers are actively exploring ways to enhance quality outcomes while maintaining a sustainable pace.
Despite the allure of busyness, it's imperative to recognize its potential drawbacks. Busyness has infiltrated our professional and personal lives, a far cry from the vision that agilists held for the workplace. It's essential to acknowledge that "busy" doesn't equate to "important." An overly packed schedule may signal underlying issues and anti-patterns that obstruct agility like the ability to understand priorities and that saying “yes” to everything is saying “no” to everything.
Let’s also acknowledge that as we speed up, quality tends to decrease. There were a few real-world examples of this. I provided a personal story of when my family and I were headed to a pool party. We forgot some of the items we needed and were rushing out of the house. We had to turn around and go back, doubling our time in the car and ending up 1 hour late to the party. We not only missed ½ the party, we also disappointed the birthday girl by being late. If we had slowed down and taken 2 minutes to make sure we had all of the items we needed, we still would have been late but not nearly as late as we were.
I also used a real-world demonstration using a favorite childhood game: Operation. In the game, I had a volunteer come up to demonstrate the concept of working slower to get faster.
Round 1 included telling our volunteer Stuart to get the pieces out as fast as possible Each time he hit the sides and the buzzer went off, we would count that as some sort of bug or mistake that required rework. Throughout this exercise, the session participants were also encouraged to talk to Stuart for status updates and otherwise try to distract him - much like we would be at the office when we are overloaded with work.
Round 2 included asking Stuart to slow down and focus on quality. In this case, try to minimize the number of buzzes you get from touching the sides of the game. The session participants were also quieter as we had a general discussion about the first round.
The Results: Round 1 was completed in 1 minute 45 seconds with approximately 37 bugs or mistakes. Round 2 was completed in 1 minute 28 seconds with about 6 bugs or mistakes. It seems counterintuitive, but yes, slowing down and focusing on quality enabled our volunteers to complete the work faster and at higher quality.
The results of the demonstration show that it’s time to reflect on our busyness, prioritizing quality and thoughtfulness to avoid costly errors that slow us down. In Part 2 of this blog post, we’ll dive more deeply into other lessons learned and presented at AgileDC, including specifics around time management, communicating bandwidth, and saying no in the interest of productivity and efficiency.
If you're interested in learning more about how we can help you prioritize quality and thoughtfulness in your work, contact us today.
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