Discovering The Future (3/8)

The key to achieving a goal is to feel connected with the ‘why’ of that goal.

I believe that in order to construct a really quality future for ourselves, we should let go of all those things we want and all those things we think we need, and to put focus on understanding our true pain points first.

In Agile, projects start with a Discovery. My experience has taught me that when this part of the process is skipped or improperly done, the result is never as good as it could be. Therefore I decided to spend as much time as needed with it (but not more than a few evenings) and to put effort in making it count.

The biggest waste of time, money, energy, skills, passion and life is building or doing something that has no value – for us or others.” (source)

A well-done Discovery stops a lot of unnecessary work from getting started and leads to understanding the value of things that should happen. It defines the ‘why’.

Also, it’s a lot of fun.

During this phase a few questions get answered:

  • Where am I now?
  • Where would I like to be?
  • What stops me from getting there?
  • What does the road look like?
  • What actions need to happen?

It is up to you how much attention you pay to each. My approach was in-depth because I wanted to address my life as a whole and because I had several projects on my mind that I wanted to get going all together, not one by one. It was a very complex situation (and of course, I had to deal with quite complex Discovery results). Ideally, though, in Agile you only do Discovery for one project at a time, and then fully focus on its delivery before moving to the next project.

Where am I now?

In order to answer this question, focus on the present moment and think about your current situation. What is it about it that you like? What is it about it that you don’t like?

  1. Create a list of 15+ things, people, events and situations that you are thankful for in your life, no matter how big or small. Don’t stop till the list is complete. This is what I did and it helped me realize what is going well.
  2. Then create a list of areas that are important to you (eg. physical health, mental health, health, friendships, family, career, creativity, social life, traveling, nature, music, art, having fun, etc.) – you can look for inspiration in your thankfulness list too. This exercise provides a bigger picture view of your life.
  3. Get everything that makes you sad, angry or dissatisfied out of your lungs. Write down things you’d like to change and improve. Go area by area and add new areas, if needed. Don’t list actions or solutions, only the pains. You can also draw them. After you do this, you will have a better understanding of what needs to be changed (not yet how). After I went through my results, I realized that there were issues I was overlooking because they were not so obvious or painful, but still negatively contributed to my overall situation from the background.

Where would I like to be?

Get wild with this one. Take a piece of paper and a pen, or a wall and a pile of sticky notes, or even a brainstorming online tool if that works for you.

In this part of Discovery, you should produce as many ideas about your future as possible. I strongly recommend to aim for a 3 digit number. The items on the list should represent the state when your ideas have come true or your problems have been solved. They can be your short-term and long-term goals, or things you want to do and experience. It’s up to you how far into the future you want to go, it can be a few months, a year, a few years, a lifetime.

Some tips for this activity:

  • Draw if you can and even if you think you are not good at it. Visualization creates stronger connection with your ideas.
  • Put some crazy, or even absurd things and some childhood dreams in your list  – make sure that you have included at least one.
  • If you get stuck, look at your gratitude reasons. Since people have desire to be happy every day, if these things made you feel good in the past and make you feel good now, they will, in one way or another, translate also into your future goals and dreams.
  • Make sure you have addressed all your pain points with visions of what your future will look like once they are removed (eg. my book is finished and published, I’m writing at speed of 1 blog post or 1 page of text a day, my art is hanging in galleries, I’m living in a new flat, I’m taking a walk with a doggie every day). Make them colorful and/or story-like.
  • Remember that your anger or dissatisfaction can be powerful sources of energy – decide to use them constructively rather than destructively. Your list may profit from them.
  • If you are aiming for a lifetime list, consider life to be your product and think about what would make the product great. There are things you won’t be able to control, but the rest is your creation. We can – at any point in life – do the best with what we have.
  • If needed, put your list aside for a while and come back to it later. Go to nature, read motivational books, exercise, socialize, do all the activities that set your mind in commotion and in creative mode.
  • Have fun and invest your time in creating an exhaustive list.

Once you are done with this exercise, the next step is categorization of related ideas into groups. These groups will be your projects. Give a name to each of them and do some merging, if it makes sense.

For each project, write a brief mission statement. What are the ideas under that project trying to do with your life? What problems are they addressing? Write an understandable statement that will describe the outcome (= the value) of the project anytime you read it. Keep it simple.

What stops me from getting there?

Take your time to brainstorm potential blockers for each project separately.

Is anything stopping you from starting the project or completing the project successfully? If yes, are you able to resolve it? Can you resolve it alone or do you need someone’s help?

For projects with blockers, you should think about how important they are in relation to the other projects, if they should be postponed, for how long they can remain postponed, what steps should be taken to remove the blockers, whose help the project depends on and how easy it is to get that help.

What does the road look like?

In this step you are defining a high-level plan while keeping your blockers in mind.

I identified seven big projects (including one called Other that had everything too random to categorize) and decided to work on them simultaneously for as long as it took to deliver them all or till I decided to quit them.

Another possible approach could be to work on one project at a time till its completion.

You can also work on multiple projects for the period of one year, and then make a new Discovery each year, or even more often.

Prioritize those projects that are really important to you. You are the Product Owner and you decide what gets done and in what order. Also remember that life is going to bring new challenges and maybe make some of your existing projects irrelevant, so you should not plan too far ahead. Stay flexible.

What actions need to happen?

The answer to this question is your Backlog. I will talk more about the Backlog creation in my next post.

Questions For You

What did you like? What did you learn? What did you lack?

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