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Mindjet Productivity Series: How Your Agile Business Strategy Affects Productivity

“These days, to say that you’re not agile is the equivalent of saying that you’re not potent.”

At least that’s how Ivar Jacobson famously put it during his presentation at the Rational Software Developer’s Conference a few years back. At the time, “agile” business hadn’t yet become the practice du jour that it is now, but the idea still resonates with companies focused on folding themselves into an agile structure. The difference? These days, to say you’re not agile is a lot like saying you don’t understand the value of productivity.

Innovation and Productivity: Not Such Strange Bedfellows

It’s arguable that most workers today could be considered, in some way or another, ‘knowledge-workers’ — people who have to use non-routine problem-solving skills and creative thinking to come up with new solutions. In other words, they have to be innovative, and work to free themselves from the temptation to keep doing the same old stuff. And, empirical studies show that their output is directly related to the degree of responsibility and ownership they feel on a given project, autonomy, and whether or not the project has some value as a learning tool.

“By design, agile business management tries to maintain a safe haven for that [creative-thinking] to happen,” says Mindjet CMO, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff. “[It allows for] flashes of human insight beyond analytical calculation, though somehow driven by analytical calculation.” A survey by Dr. Dobbs found that 82% of the 3,000+ participants felt that agile teams have higher levels of productivity overall. The point? Agile processes inspire focus by defining a short period in which a limited number of very scoped projects are developed and executed, which in turn gives innovation a chance to flourish in a highly-productive way.

It’s All About the Backlog

Consistent communication is what agile is all about, and it’s reinforced by your backlog — your list of priorities that is much more important than an everyday checklist. Not only does it act as a statement of work, so to speak, but it provides tangible evidence of actions to be taken, which gives productivity an actual blueprint to follow — and be measured against. By providing answers to questions about why a project is being done and what the opportunities are, the backlog is a very clear way to ensure that you never fail the same way twice.

Because this kind of collaborative communication is so fundamental to the process, there are some modern work practices that can muddle it up — for example, telecommuting. Says Kaykas-Wolff, “[Agile] really is a process that’s benefited by face-time, and remote team members working into the process can disrupt pre-existing work patterns.” While that may be the case, this doesn’t mean you should lead your telecommuting practices straight to the gallows; instead, boosting productivity through agile requires that you build strategies around potential weaknesses. “Agile processes are supposed to get the day-to-day things done,” he says, “while still preserving time to explore and question the overall assumptions those day-to-day things contain.”

Tips for Boosting Productivity: #1-5

Claiming the agile process alone isn’t quite enough; while it’s set up to be mostly fool-proof in terms of execution, it can take some time to acclimate. Here are a few things you can do to get your agile process up, running, and immediately more productive:

  1. Plan for disruption. Your strategy should always be flexible enough to accommodate the inevitable changes that result from changing market dynamics.
  2. Set achievable goals. Sprints and backlogs are designed to promote hyper-focused bursts of productivity; that can’t happen if you aim beyond practical means.
  3. Identify the “Three Wins” for you day, week, month, and year. By clearly outlining attainable goals on varying scales, you’ll be able to focus more closely on outcomes and value.
  4. Prioritize in detail. This is key — if you’re going to be using a backlog to “put your money where your mouth is,” priorities have to be established down to the last nurture email.
  5. Laugh in the face of mental blocks. Don’t spend gratuitous amounts of time lamenting the gaps in what you know; work with what you have in front of you. Answers to your questions will emerge naturally as development continues.
Want to learn more about boosting productivity in today’s work environment? Join us tomorrow for our Lunch and Learn Webinar with Andy Wibbels, Mindjet’s  Director of Solutions and Partner Marketing. Register here.

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