Agile and the Art of Simplicity

When we talk about simplicity we often think about decluttering exercises that are total overhauls. And this is the time of the year when we find our inboxes cluttered with “New Year, New You” emails from people marketing their latest product. These amazing products will turn your life around, allowing you do more, have more, be more. All for the very low (discounted for you) price of… This is the time of the year to let go of what we do not need, whether it be objects in the house, extra weight gained over Christmas (or possibly before Christmas – anyone?) or relationships that aren’t serving us. Whatever it is, there is a chance it probably should go, but you know in your heart of hearts you can probably let go of it without buying a program for $497 or $99 a month. You do, don’t you? Let’s bring simplicity back, Agile style…

Simplicity – Maximising the Work not Done

When I think about the principle in Agile that speaks about maximising the work not done and keeping things simple, I often think about the beginning of the year. Everyone starts off with good intentions that are all but forgotten by March. Programs that were purchased lay wasting away in a folder called “2017 Courses” or “Learning” or “Personal Development”. It can be so much simpler than that. Maximising the work not done doesn’t take a guru to tell us how to do it, it requires looking at what we are doing and working out what ‘just enough’ is. ‘Just enough’ is not being lazy. It’s being pragmatic. It’s thinking about what is really needed then just doing that. It’s saving unnecessary work that will either be wasted or regretted. It’s about doing some up front thinking and planning to work out what could be done then getting on with it.

My Agile Year

At the end of last year I decided to live an ‘Agile’ year. The work I do with my clients is really important, and I often ask them do things that I need to be sure I am also prepared to do as well. When we look at the Agile manifesto, it can, in the words of Dr Alistair Cockburn, ‘encourage wimpiness’ as people take the bits that make sense to them and discard everything else (e.g. “Yay! No planning!” etc). The manifesto is great, but it really is a list of high level values. The principles pave more of a helpful road map. Some of the principles I know I work very hard at keeping to, and others, well, they could do with some improvement. How about you?


A year of taking one of each of the principles a month and truly living it. It doesn’t mean the remainder of the principles wait their turn, it means that each month has a focus. The focus will be primarily professional with insights into how else the principles could be applied, especially to my health, an important focus for me this year.

January has been all about Simplicity

To start the year I chose simplicity. Taking the time to think about what was important to me, and let go of what I no longer needed. To ignore the pile of emails telling me all I needed was a program and come up with my own program instead. For me. Oh, and others if they want to collaborate. I will be publishing progress via Google Docs so anyone can play along.


So far January has involved decluttering my mind and my physical space. And I have been doing it Agile style. Iteratively. And it kind of had to be that way as it’s been so hot in Melbourne (and the tennis is on!). Even with air conditioning, needs must – moving slowly and deliberately is best to conserve energy. And who wants to spend hours decluttering when you can spend half an hour here, half an hour there? I’ve been using Pomodoro timer and committing to focus completely on decluttering for the allocated time then taking a break. Knowing I’m only doing something for 25 minutes means I can focus really easily. The thought of decluttering all day is enough to send anyone running for the hills. The thought of doing anything tedious for any amount of time is challenging, so why not do it in small pieces? In the same way as we break big tasks into smaller chunks to make them more manageable in the workplace, we do it everywhere. Why not in our personal lives? I have been applying this to my health too, that I’ll cover in a separate post.


How could you make your life more simple? Want to play along in My Agile Year? Email me at to join in!



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About Emma Sharrock

Emma is the author of The Agile Project Manager: Thrive in Change with Agile. An experienced change leader, Emma is passionate about working with people to facilitate successful change. Emma utilises Agile techniques, coupled with the Agile mindset to coach leaders and teams to achieve their business goals.