Most software developers have heard of agile development. Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Test Driven Development (TDD), etc.
Other business books such as "The E-Myth" talk about working "on" the business versus working "in" the business; and treating your business as a franchise prototype.
As a small or mid-sized business owner, you need to balance off:
- Finding and servicing your customers,
- Planning and executing your strategy,
- Working on your business (making it better),
- Working in the business (keeping it all running).
The problem is, every day you have a gazillion things to take care of. The world is getting more complex and faster paced by the minute. Your world is getting bigger; you are competing against companies around the world and in non-traditional ways.
If you are small and the lions are after you, you need to be able to run and turn like a gazelle (long enough to grow and maybe one day morph into a lion or elephant). Ok, maybe not the best metaphor but I didn't say you "are" a gazelle, just that you need to be able to move fast and change direction quickly.
Running an Agile Business
The trick is really to take some of the learnings from all of the various disciplines. Take some agile, throw in a little psychology, a little motivational theory, personal performance and time management, some coaching, and the kitchen sink.
Whether you are talking strategy, business planning or project planning, don't plan in more detail than you need to up front. Things will change by the time you get there. Set the overall vision or outcome and then plan details closer to implementation. This way you don't waste too much time on the nitty gritty details that may be thrown away. Besides, you will never know more about a topic then when you are implementing it.
I am not saying don't plan. You need to know where you are going in order for everyone to move there together.
Plan and execute work and project in shorter cycles. Anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks (a month) seems right for most businesses. You might be able to get away with longer cycles in a slow moving industry, but that is not the point.
The point is that you have a learning and improvement process in your cycles. It should look something like:
- Reflect and Learn
- Plan and improve
- Implement and execute
This gets you in the habit of continuously looking for and removing obstacles and unnecessary work; making improvements.
If you are running projects in shorter cycles, you can learn and improve more often. Most importantly, you adapt your planning to what is happening in the real world, not what you guessed it would be a long time ago.
You are trying to put together a map for the coming week. At the start of every week:
- Reflect and learn from your last week,
- Select your focus (goals and projects) for this week. Be reasonable. Select only 3-5 things to focus on.
- Choose your desired outcomes for the week. These are things that will have a significant impact on moving you forward. Again, keep this under five.
- List out any tasks that need to get done. This is your busy work.
Make your goals for the week aggressive enough that you are moving while achievable enough that you have a chance of achieving them. Otherwise, this becomes another giant "to do list" that never gets done.
Every day starts fresh. At the start of every day:
- Reflect and learn from yesterday,
- Review your weekly focus, outcomes and tasks,
- Knowing what you know today and not being held to past decisions; what is the most important things for you to accomplish. Keep it reasonable or you will not feel charged.
- Focus (1-3)
- Outcomes (3-5)
Every day it is a good idea to try to balance things that need to get done with things that should get done to make things better longer-term.
Sure there a lots of things to get done, but don't forget to work on yourself. Include:
- Things that give you energy,
- Things that make you better and will help you achieve more down the road,
- Things that bring some fun to your work.
Your Entire Business Team
If your entire business team was doing this; imagine what you could accomplish.
Finally, remember two things:
- This approach is not a giant "to do list"; you are starting fresh in your planning every week and day so you are adapting and working on what is most important.
- To be agile you have to keep reflecting, learning and changing.