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A Comparison Between Personal Growth and Agile

July 8, 2019

Constant reflection and improvement move us towards growth but not necessarily towards our happiest selves.

There is this ingrained idea that Agile somehow automatically promotes happier teams and individuals but what if that’s not necessarily the case?


Constant reflection and improvement move us towards growth but not necessarily towards our happiest selves.


I have been on a personal growth journey for about four years and have been working with Agile methodologies since 2013, becoming an Agile Coach in 2017. So, I often read books and articles and debate ideas with other people on both fronts, and both have influenced my life immensely.


One day, after reading two articles, the idea that personal growth and Agile have more in common than we might realise emerged in my mind. It’s not really that I hadn’t thought of it before but this time it formed with greater clarity - and thus this article was born. Before we begin, although it’s not strictly necessary to understanding this article, I recommend you read the two articles which inspired me, and I challenge you to keep both Agile and personal growth in mind when reading them:



The first is about the pitfalls of personal growth. It’s about our expectations when embarking on this journey, and about the realities we often end up finding.


The second one is about the fluctuations between believing and embracing Agile and about some of the sabotaging and reversing behaviours we face during an Agile transformation.


By now you should be thinking - what does personal growth and Agile have in common? I ask you this first - what is Agile transformation for a company or team?


In my opinion, when a company or team embark on an Agile transformation journey, they are setting themselves on a course towards growth, they are embracing the idea of continuous improvement, which is accomplished through reflection and adaptation. Personal growth, as it is commonly known, is about raising awareness about ourselves so that we can improve as human beings.


I have gathered six lessons we can take from ideas on personal growth and Agile. It doesn’t mean there aren’t more, but these were - for me at least - the clearest ones. I’ve assumed, when writing the article, that you have some knowledge on both topics so I won’t go into foundational details about them.


Number 1. Be careful about expectations


Expectations are like a trap. The higher our expectations are the easier it is to not see the benefits of what we are trying out.


Have you ever been to that city you dreamt of going for years, or to that show everyone is talking about and left feeling disappointed? It’s not that the city wasn’t beautiful and vibrant or that the show wasn’t engaging and fun, more that the expectations you had when you got there were so high that the reality couldn’t possibly live up to them.


Not everything is going to be like we expect it to be and that’s ok. The problem is our belief that some things must be the way we imagine them to be in our minds.


Number 2. Let’s celebrate our learnings!


Personal growth or Agile transformation - any of these roads is going to be hard, with twists and turns, peaks and troughs. We will often feel alone and lost, we will find it hard to recognise our path and we won’t be able to measure our evolution - sure, we can measure velocity, lead times, and other such things, but are those really measurements of a team’s growth? Or can there be improvements that don’t reflect in these indicators?


We must acknowledge how far we’ve reached, on our growth journey, celebrate the accomplishments we’ve had, and not always be focused on what it is that we should aim for next. If we fail to do this we will end up losing faith and going back to old practices and behaviours just because they are more familiar and more comfortable.


Happiness is not the end goal, happiness should be part of the journey. But we can’t just wait for happiness to work its magic. Happiness is not some kind of lightning that strikes us. It is a feeling, and like any other feeling we must be aware of it to recognise it. We can practise recognising happiness by celebrating our wins along the way. Wins won’t always have the face of success. Failures can be wins too. So, better than saying “let’s celebrate wins" we should say "let’s celebrate learnings". By celebrating learnings we are opening ourselves to failure, and failure is needed on every growth journey.


Number 3. Don't just aim to be happier


As I write this article, I am becoming increasingly aware that I don’t have yet a habit of celebrating my learnings but I do acknowledge most of them (I don’t know if it’s possible to acknowledge every single learning because we are constantly learning).


Just for the sake of an example, a few years ago it would be impossible for me to speak in public to any kind of audience, either to small or big crowds, and it would be frightening to facilitate any meeting of a group of people. And yet I became an Agile Coach and those are now regular practices in my daily work. The first few tries were nerve-wracking, my mind would go blank, I would feel sick and I even tried to sabotage myself sometimes. Nowadays I still get nervous, guess that won’t ever disappear completely, but I am able to not let it control me and - in a couple of minutes after starting any training or talk - I’ll feel somewhat relaxed and in control of what I need to do. How did I manage this? Iteratively, through breathing techniques, mental affirmations and applying retrospection after each step.


In case you are curious, the affirmations that worked for me were not the usual “It’s going to be OK”, “You’ve got this”, etc. What works for me is thinking “These people came to listen and learn about this topic, it’s your responsibility to do your best to meet their expectations”, “They are not here to judge you, they are here to learn”, “You are a vehicle for this information, it’s not about you but about the content” and “Don’t be afraid of what happens, if you don’t know the answer just say you don’t know, ask if anyone else knows or agree to seek an answer and provide it to them later”. Has achieving this made me a happier person? I wouldn’t say so necessarily, but it definitely reduced my anxiety and provided me with more confidence.


Number 4. Improvement is both the means and the end


Improvement is the means by which we, individually or collectively, become better. It is also the end. We won’t reach a point on our journey where we’ll say “Ok, now I am/we are perfect, nothing else needs improvement”. From the moment we start creating this habit of continuous improvement we won’t ever stop. There is always going to be something to improve. If we think there isn’t it’s just that we are not yet aware of it.


Number 5. Growth is not linear


If you read the two articles which inspired me for this article you will find another common trait: growth is not linear.


During a personal growth journey, we have some evolutionary jumps, but we also have some demons we’ll eventually have to face which will send us backwards. On an Agile transformation journey, we’ll also see this happening - we’ll have times of peace and times of war - we will have ups and downs. It’s par for the course.


Number 6. There is no recipe


We all wish there was a straightforward way to be a better person, or to become an Agile organisation. The sad news is there isn’t. As Marta states in her article

“It is not something you can plan like a week’s work or steer like a vehicle on the road. There is no road where you are going. That’s because no-one has ever been in your skin, to build this road before you. It is just your life and your unique experience. You are the one building the road.”


Because every one of us is unique, so is every company and every team, both personal and Agile journeys are about building a unique road and about creating what works for us in the context we’re in, with the constraints we have.


So…


Knowing it won’t be straightforward, that there’s no one size fits all and we won’t get to a Holy Grail, how may you embark and not get discouraged on your growth or Agile journeys?


For me it’s about belief and resilience.


I believe that we were given consciousness for a reason and it is better than the alternative - if I were meant to sit still I would be a rock. My resilience, on the other hand, gets me through the challenges, facing them one by one, allowing me to learn and grow iteratively - not like a kamikaze blasting everything at once. The funny thing is these learnings end up accumulating and giving me new powers to handle the next challenges.


So, my message to you on your own journey - be it a personal, a team or a company one - is believe, keep growing and celebrate your learnings along the way.


This is my first article so I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Thanks.



by Sofia Peixoto

Agile Coach