Think Agile to Work Efficiently and Effectively

I like to be efficient. I like finishing my work quickly, without wasting time, money, or energy.

But it’s also important to be effective—working on what matters most. One of the legacies of waterfall approaches is that too often, our focus is on efficiency and not effectiveness.

Efficiency is how fast you can do something. That works for manufacturing, when you do the same thing again and again. Effectiveness is delivering finished work at the right time. When we work on one project at a time and learn best as we proceed, we are both efficient and effective.

Software Is Innovation and Learning

When people think about software with a manufacturing mindset, they miss the fact that software also means innovation and learning. We almost never produce the same product again. That’s why software is innovation. We learn from what we do first. That’s why software is learning.

I know that when I’m trying to be innovative or learn, I cycle between creating and checking. I might even ask for review for an interim piece of work. This cycling describes how I write, develop workshops, and coach my clients.

Back when I was a developer, I thought I wasn’t so good because I could only write smaller chunks. I had to test them to see if they worked before I wrote another chunk. I was not the kind of developer who could envision the entire system and code it, and then it would magically work. Of course, we know that few people have that capability. Many more developers now work the way I did.

When I was a tester, I did some test plan development—the general approach and scenario development to explain to people where I planned to focus my testing. I enumerated the risks I could foresee and the measurements I expected to take as I tested.

Once I had some of the product to test, I almost always changed my test plans. My overall plan was still good, but the details changed because the risks changed. I often added or changed scenarios so the developers could learn from my feedback.

One of the nice things about agile is the focus on working in small chunks of value. We cycle between creating and testing and getting feedback on what we just produced. That cycling allows us to be effective.

How Effective Are You?

I am most effective when I deliver something for feedback more often than less often. And I am more effective when I work on one small project (or small chunk) at a time, finish it, and then proceed to the next chunk. Given all the research about multitasking, that should work for you, too.

I am actually more efficient when I produce small chunks of value more often. I get feedback and stop going down unproductive paths.

Agile and lean methods allow us to be more efficient and effective, because change is the one constant in our lives.

How efficient and effective are you?

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