Agile Lessons From Yoga: Flowing Gracefully Through Your Projects

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by: Michelle LaBrosse and Megan Alpine

Here at Cheetah Learning, the atmosphere has been full of energy and excitement as wrap up development efforts on our new program called The Happy Aging Project. Combining a 10-hour online class followed by a 2-day yoga retreat, this program is unlike anything we’ve offered before. Our next step is to channel the team’s energy into implementing our Cheetah Sales and Marketing Accelerator System. And since it includes a yoga component, what better way to organize our efforts for it than with an Agile project management approach?

Think about it: Yoga is really all about agility. It should be no surprise, then, that Agile principles and practices share much in common with those of yoga. Both require the ability to adapt to change, focus intently on one task at a time, and settle into a comfortable, sustainable pace to prevent burnout. And in yoga, as in Agile, users gain incremental benefits throughout the duration of their practice.

Let’s talk about a few building blocks of Agile that are essential to putting our Happy Aging Project marketing plan into action: stories, estimating, and points.

Stories, as we see them, are project deliverables that have varying levels of complexity. These may be “user stories” that describe some functional element of your project from the user’s point of view; using the case of the Happy Aging Project, a user story might sound like, “I want to be able to move from the first marketing web page to checkout in just 2 clicks.”

Another Agile story may be from the point of view of project team members describing behind-the-scenes functionality. For example, one of the stories we’re working on is: “I need an automated system to send follow-up emails to prospective customers who fill out a form on our marketing page.”

After you break up your big project into stories, it’s time to start estimating the complexity of each story and how long it’s going to take to complete. In Agile, you do this by assigning “points” to each story. Simple stories that take the least amount of time and effort to complete will have a low point value, while complex, multi-step stories will have a higher point value. How many points you assign to each story is relative to the other stories that make up the project.

For our Happy Aging Project marketing “sprint” (another Agile term — it means a short-term, high-intensity project designed to deliver results fast), we used a fairly common Agile technique to quickly and effectively estimate point values for stories: planning poker. To “play,” you first need to bring your whole team together — face-to-face or via video conference. Each team member will have a set of 4 to 7 cards each assigned a number value; we like following the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21. The whole team then discusses 1 story at a time. At the end of discussion, each team member chooses 1 card that they think best represents the story’s complexity — lower point values mean lower complexity. If there is significant variation in the scores team members assign to the story, the team should discuss further to try to get on the same page about what work is really necessary to complete the story.

At the end of this process, we had a collectively agreed-upon estimate for each story. Part of the value of these estimates is the estimating process itself; by having all team members participate on equal terms, they’ll feel more invested in the project and energized to bust out the tasks in those low-point-value stories.

Estimates are also an important reality-check. If a story has a point value far above the others, it’s worth asking if it’s really worth pursuing. You may find that other, easier-to-complete stories can get you to the same final outcome you’re working toward. In yoga, for example, you could do a headstand to flow into downward dog position — but you really don’t need to.

If you’re new to Agile, your first attempt at estimating story complexity may completely miss the mark – and that’s okay. As your team becomes more experienced at Agile techniques, they’ll not only improve their ability to make accurate estimates, but they’ll likely assign lower scores to each story. This isn’t because the stories magically simplify themselves, but because an Agile team learns how to reach the desired outcomes in the most efficient way possible.

To learn more about adapting Agile principles and practices to your organization, check out our 2-PDU Taste of Agile online course (www.cheetahlearning.com/wp/agiletaste/). Or, if you’re already a devoted Agile follower, consider becoming a PMI Agile Certified Practitioner and taking our comprehensive Cheetah Exam Prep® for the PMI-ACP® Exam program. And if you’d like to become increasingly flexible as you age, check out our new program, The Happy Aging Project (www.cheetahlearning.com/wp/hayorig/).

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About Author

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun, and fast She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management (PM) to the masses. Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 50,000 people have become “Cheetahs” using Cheetah Learning’s innovative PM and accelerated learning techniques. Michelle also developed the Cheetah Certified Project Manager (CCPM) program based on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality profiling to help students master how to use their unique strengths for learning, doing projects, and negotiating. Michelle is recognized by the Project Management Institute as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world. For more information, visit www.cheetahlearning.com.

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