2021 Q4 PCM-5235 Blog Agile - An Agile Approach to New Year's Resolutions - Hero

Happy (almost) New Year! Like most people, I was happy to close the door on 2020 and am ready to move past 2021. Thankfully, 2021 brought some relief, but even still it was another challenging year. While I'm grateful for the growth both professionally and personally that each year provided, I have high hopes for 2022 and that it’s not “twenty twenty, too”.

Every new year provides us the opportunity to retrospect on the previous year and plan for the new one. I, for one, do not make New Year's Resolutions. Several studies show that only 8% of New Year's Resolutions are successful. The reasons for failure range depending on the group of people surveyed. Athletes, for example, have a fateful day: the second Saturday in January. Whereas others may see a slightly longer time frame before failure (the second week of February), it's disheartening to set and fail at a New Year's Resolution.

Each of the studies (of which there are countless) seem to agree on the success factors: setting smaller, attainable goals in shorter time frames. For those Agile evangelists out there, this sounds VERY familiar.

Setting SMART Goals

The first step in setting any attainable goal is to think SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Roughly 55% of New Year's Resolutions are health-related. Let's look at one of the most common examples: "I want to lose weight."

When we hold this basic statement against the SMART standards, it fails. And, to be honest, so will you. Instead, let's reframe this within the SMART framework: "I would like to lose 20 pounds by May 31."

This fulfills all the SMART criteria of setting a good goal. Now that we have a good goal, how do we attain it? Let's look at our Agile frameworks to help us fulfill our goal of losing 20 pounds by June 30.

Set Yourself Up for Success: An Iterative Approach

If you've ever tried to fulfill a New Year's Resolution, you know there are tons of factors that can impact your results. Weather, holidays, birthdays, sheer lack of desire...any or all of these can impact your ability to attain your goals. Instead, break these down into incremental smaller goals and measure your attainment in shorter timeframes. Think of your big goal as an Epic (the what) to be broken into Stories (the how), and you will attain that goal.

The Epic: 20 Pounds in 5 months

The Stories: 4 Pounds per Month

See? Doesn't that already sound easier? But you need to take it even further. Thinking of each month as a Sprint, you should set yourself a Sprint Goal for each month. How are you going to build better habits to lose the 4 Pounds per Month?

  • Walk 30 minutes twice per week
  • Reduce meal delivery service to once per week
  • Cook a vegetarian meal once per week

However, the critical thing to remember is not to start your first week with all three. Remember, you're trying to set yourself up for long-term success. It should look something more like this:

  • Walk 30 minutes twice per week by the end of January
  • Reduce meal delivery service to once per week and continue to walk 30 minutes twice per week by the end of March
  • Cook a vegetarian meal once per week, continue reduced meal delivery service, and continue to walk by the end of May

Instead of starting all three goals at the beginning of January, gradually iterate into them. Spend the time to focus on a single, smaller attainable goal to build the habit.

Meet Your Goals: Measurement and Retrospective

While attaining your goal is binary (I did it or I didn't do it), the key to success is to measure against it and retrospect on a regular cadence. Instead of obsessing over the pounds per month, measure against the smaller goals.

  • Walk 30 minutes twice per week
    • Mark on a calendar when you walked each week
    • Use a fitness tracker and specifically call out when you walked each week
  • Reduce meal delivery service to once per week
    • Set the day of the week to have food delivered (e.g. Thursdays)
  • Cook a vegetarian meal once per week
    • Mark on a calendar when you cooked a vegetarian meal
    • Set the day of the week to cook the meal

Each week, take a moment to review your calendar or your app or however you track these items. However, do not beat yourself up if you missed a week. Really dig into why the miss happened. Was it a particularly stressful day and ordering delivery was easier? Was the weather too cold or snowy or rainy that week? Either way, you don't have to "make up for it" the following week: simply try again.

As you engage in 2022, remember you don't have to start on your resolutions right away either. If you've failed every year in January, then shift your goal to a February start. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Interested in how you can apply similar logic to meet your business goals and increase your ROI on projects? Reach out and our experts would love to help.

Amanda Babb

Written by Amanda Babb

Amanda Babb, Principal of Client Delivery, has been working in the Atlassian products since 2013. After becoming a SAFe® Program Consultant in 2015, she's worked with Enterprise organizations facilitating their agile-at-scale transformations leveraging the Atlassian Products. A self-proclaimed Agile Evangelist, Amanda has worked closely with Atlassian to build Praecipio Consulting's Jira Align practice, blending framework and tooling to accelerate enterprise digital transformation.

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