Zeroizing the Risks (5/8)

In the better case (the worse being you don’t know where or how to start), your work/project/plan has been kicked off, you are full of enthusiasm. You are doing well the first week. The second week something happens that disrupts your workflow, but no problem – you get back on track again. Third week starts to feel a bit painful. You realize you have to push yourself in order to see some progress. After the first month, you are seeing serious gaps in the whole project and start seeking for alibi to postpone it. The work you’ve done is incomplete and far from achieving a goal.

Finish more by doing less

Agile has a way to prevent those kind of situations. It is called an iteration.

Iterations are used to break down the (usually unknown) total amount of time needed for completion of a project. The recommended length of one iteration is two weeks (in business world) and one week (for personal projects). If you work on a few projects simultaneously, you might benefit from making your iteration one month long (like I did). Naturally, a short-term goal takes shorter time to deliver than a long-term goal. You work on less things, but they are generally done sooner. If something goes wrong, since it goes wrong soon, it can be fixed soon.

As example, imagine these two scenarios:

Scenario 1: you have to write 8 essays in 2 months
Scenario 2: you have to write 1 essay in 1 week (for the period of 2 months)

They both represent the same amount of work, but by different distribution over time, the scenario 2 allows for the work to be done faster. There are two possible issues with the scenario 1:

  • Procrastination. If you are a master of self-discipline, then the scenario 1 might sound just great. But there are many people who tend to fall into the trap of procrastination. For these, the first option is too risky because it literally invites the bad habit. In scenario 2, even if all work was left to the weekends, it is more likely that when 2 months are over everything is completed.
  • Obstacles. Unplanned to-dos, chores in the way, unexpected life events, unavailability of people whose help or action you depend on. If one or more of these shows up in, let’s say, 6th week (which it usually will), in the scenario 2 you possibly already have five finished essays, while in the scenario 1 you might not have even started.
Do not get me wrong. Both of these problems are still valid for scenario 2 too. But since the work is approached in parts, they will be discovered sooner (and can be fixed sooner).

In Agile, you never work with the whole Backlog, but focus on just a part of it. You visit the Backlog after each iteration to see what items are next in priority and if there are any new items that should be taken into consideration (or any issues that have to be solved). In this way, no to very little time is wasted working on something that is of no value.

The queen of all iterations

is the Iteration Zero.

Similarly to Discovery, it should not be skipped. Iteration Zero is the time needed to kick off your activities. It is time-boxed, and in the case of a personal project might take about one week. If you are approaching your projects separately, one at a time, it is recommended to have an Iteration Zero for each of them separately as well.

It takes only as long as needed and its goal is to set up the environment in which your work can get done. Its outcome shouldn’t be a perfect plan but a plan that is good enough to support your first iteration.

The three functions of Iteration Zero in Agile are:
  1. Do whatever is necessary to set up the team
  2. Focus on shared understanding of the project’s goal and mission
  3. Prepare everything that you need in order to begin delivering Iteration One
Let’s look at each in a bit more detail.

Setting up the team

In the case of a personal project, you are going to work in a team of one. This does not mean you would not want to or could not implement the principles of more-member teams. These principles are:

  • openness = be honest to yourself (for example when working with your visual walls and with to-dos)
  • empathy = pay attention to your internal needs, don’t overwork yourself, let yourself take rest and reward yourself for your successes
  • courage = admit your mistakes (and then learn from them)
  • trust = count on yourself to deliver what you commit to
  • respect = be proud of yourself despite your mistakes, acknowledge your value without thinking less of others, act with dignity
Shared understanding

During Iteration Zero it is also useful to search and reach mutual understanding of the project’s goal with those who will be impacted by it and those who will be involved in the work.

  • Brainstorm names of people whose help you will need. Let them know in advance, so that they are aware. Explain to them why the project is important to you and how they can help you.
  • Brainstorm names of people who will be impacted by the result of your project. Do not just assume you are the only one. You might be right, but what could happen if you’re not?

Preparation for delivery

At this point, your Backlog has already been broken down into smaller, doable units. Each of these units makes sense in relation to the overall goal of the project.

  • Use Iteration Zero to prioritize the items you would like to do in one or two upcoming weeks. You can write a small note next to these or just mark them with a star. This is not final prioritization yet, so just follow your gut feeling about what feels to be the top priority at the moment, or what has to be done before something really important can happen.
  • Decide how long your iterations will be and what days they will start and end (I like them 1 month long, from first to last day of month which is not ideal setup but works for me).
  • Decide what your tools will be (what works best for me is combination of 1 tool for visualization of progress, 1 to-do list and 1 calendar).
  • Move your Backlog into your tools (more on this in my next blog post).

Questions For You

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


2 thoughts on “Zeroizing the Risks (5/8)

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