I’m In an Agile State of Mind

The secret to work-life balance is thinking agile, says Alex White.

“Agile”. It’s a word that gets thrown around too often without enough thought. I’ve heard this come up so many times in various meetings, reviews and even casual corridor conversation. You know how it goes: “We need you/the team/the structure to be more agile.” But there’s never much of a discussion around what being “agile” actually entails.

Where does it come from?

Agile methodology entered the software development arena in the early 2000s as a way to speed up processes and get products to market faster. Makes sense – software development is a fast-moving space, and it always has been, even way back then, when The Fast and The Furious was new and people were playing Snake on their Nokia 3310s. But it’s not just developers who want to get to market faster. Other industries quickly jumped on the concept and before long, Agile had morphed from a project management methodology into a buzzword that many workers have started to view as a catchy euphemism for toxic workplace culture.

Red flags ahead

The word “agile” has become a red flag for many. There’s a sense that being agile comes at the cost of your people. It’s come to be associated with all-nighters and burnt-out employees roaming the office like extras in The Walking Dead, living from coffee to coffee. A burnt-out team can’t produce meaningful, attention-grabbing creative work, which in turn means the business suffers. So, it would seem that striving to be more agile in the workplace is not a good idea then, right? Wrong.

Agile As a Mindset

If you’re a woman with a job, you’ll be familiar with the question, “How do you juggle it all?”. For me, “it all” means a job heading up a business unit for a big agency, two kids, a husband and a solid social life. Yes, I do manage to make time for all of them and last time I checked, I was not a juggler. Rather, it comes down to the fact that I have a constant drive to be more agile.

I wake up every day with an agile mindset: What can I do today that will make me faster and more efficient than yesterday? What can I make easier for myself and my clients that will allow me time to work on the next thing or, hey, get home 20 minutes earlier to spend time with my family?

When you look at it from the perspective of a mindset, rather than a type of behaviour, being agile is far from toxic. On the contrary, I believe it’s a very positive way of thinking. I’d go so far as to say, it’s the way we should all think.

Since the pandemic, there’s been more talk than ever about getting that elusive work-life balance right. Ultimately that comes down to being more efficient with the time we have available – which is where the agile mindset really comes into its own. Work is not going to become less demanding – it’s unfortunate, but it’s true. That means it’s us who need to adapt, and I believe we can all find ways to streamline how we approach each day – if we do so with an open and agile mind.

So next time your client asks you to be more agile and you feel your hackles rising, take a breath and think again. It’s really not a bad idea.

Alex White is a Managing Partner at VMLY&R South Africa.

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