Agile and being in Flow

It’s the new year and the year my book, The Agile Project Manager, will be published. Long time readers and team members will know I have been pretty busy with my head down writing, and the feedback I have been receiving has been wonderful, thank you.

It has been a while since I sent out a chapter and it’s for a number of reasons. Each chapter has been written and sent out to the amazing people who have volunteered to be on my team, and the feedback has been great and kept me on track. Late in 2014, I started what could only be described as a giant Iteration or Sprint, where I tackled a number of chapters all at the same time, as there were a number of concepts I wanted to weave through them, so in effect, I was writing three chapters at the same time.

In Agile, you don’t start on a task unless you plan to complete it in the near future (preferably today in the case of a project working in two week sprints), but in my case, I embarked on Chapter Three with the next two chapters in mind too. And then I got into a kind of flow, where the words just came out, and although I was very focused, I found myself moving from one chapter to the other almost seamlessly, as concepts originally planned for one chapter became part of another. Many mind maps were drawn!

I know I have spoken about head space before, and this was similar. In fact, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi talks about this state of singular focus, where nothing else matters in a great TED Talk. I can’t claim to have been in THAT much flow, but I was definitely focused to the point that external influences became less important for a time.

It got me thinking about project teams working towards outputs, and how flow is so important for them. When a team loses focus and chooses to give other things their attention, either by choice or not, they lose this amazing sense of flow, this sense of effortlessly getting things done in a super efficient way. Regardless of if they are Agile or not, a focused project team gets more done. Fortunately, Agile project teams are set up to encourage as many situations as possible for ‘flow’, while traditional project teams are not.

However, all is not lost. Whether your team is Agile or not, there are still plenty of ways a great Agile Project Manager can get their team in ‘flow’.

  • Start each team meeting or get together by reminding the team of the project’s vision – the big “Why” they are doing what they are doing – this helps keep people focused on the bigger picture and motivated to work when things get tough.
  • Be grateful – whenever a team member completes a task, large or small, make sure they know how grateful you are. Sometimes it can be hard for team members to understand the importance of their work, and everyone likes to be thanked.
  • Reflect often – project retrospectives do not just have to be for Agile projects. Pick a time period (say the last month) and ask everyone to reflect on that time period. What went well? What did not go well? What can we do differently over the next time period that could really improve things? Reflecting often keeps the team focused on what is important, especially when they are making commitments to do things differently.
  • Celebrate often – especially on a large project. Don’t wait until the end of a two year project to go out for the obligatory end of project lunch. Pick some milestones, large or small, and celebrate. Even if it’s just with a few pizzas after work or at lunch one day. Perhaps even tie into a retrospective?

Think of a time when you were in ‘flow’ or ‘in the zone’. What made it so? How could you use what you learned to ensure your teams spend more time focused and working in the best way possible?



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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.