This blog article is part of Foundant’s quarterly content series designed to offer tangible tips and practical resources on how to Work Smarter, Not Harder.
Are you planning your annual fundraising event? Launching a new program? Wondering how to tackle a major campaign?
“I know how tricky it can be to move key projects forward when you’re sitting in an organization surrounded by competing priorities,” says Rachel Myers, industry thought leader and owner of RM + Co. “This was my inspiration for the Work Smarter, Not Harder content series—to help create the space we need and share tips and approaches to get our important work done because we know how important that work is.”
As part of the series, Rachel has guest-hosted several episodes of Foundant’s Connected Philanthropy podcast. In the most recent episode about Getting Work Done, she sat down with Aarron Szalacinski, an expert in a collaborative project management framework called Agile, to talk about how it enables creativity, flexibility, and efficiency.
Aarron first used the Agile methodology while working as a project manager at Disney more than 15 years ago when he inherited a project to develop one of the early iterations of online check-in for Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts. The project was already three months behind schedule and had been passed to six different project managers.
“By using Agile practices, we were able to manage the scope and deliver on time and on budget,” explains Aarron. “I realized, ‘There's something legitimately here.’”
Aarron has continued to use Agile ever since.
While technology experts created the Agile methodology more than 20 years ago to guide software development teams, the strategy can be an effective framework for any dynamic project.
Agile is the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment.
When to Use Agile
If you’re tackling a significant project, Aarron suggests asking yourself two questions to determine if Agile is the most suitable strategy:
- How critical is the final deliverable?
- How much change are you expecting to affect that final deliverable?
If your answers are “very” and “a lot,” Agile provides a framework enabling you to adapt and respond to change as you work towards your important goal.
“The need to be flexible and responsive is something that many folks in the philanthropic sector can relate to,” responds Rachel. “You're on a path, and then there's a disaster in your community, or your organization needs to address a new and unexpected need, and suddenly you're pivoting to a new path.”
Breaking Down the Work
When using the Agile approach, a project is divided into smaller “program increments” or “PIs.” Aarron’s team uses quarterly PIs. Then, within each quarter, his team further breaks down their work into two-week “sprints.” Breaking down the work into these smaller “chunks” enables them to prioritize each task and ensure all work demonstrates value toward the vision. It also prevents the team from getting sidetracked down “rabbit holes” that create inefficiencies or distract team members with work that isn’t contributing to the ultimate goal.
“Don’t over plan the work efforts or process,” explains Aarron. “Start with a rough idea of how you want to work and commit to that plan for the sprint.”
At the end of each two-week sprint, the team has a retrospective meeting to discuss what went well, what didn’t, and why. Then they can evolve the process.
By identifying the root cause of any issues and ways to improve the process, you can increase the speed and efficiency of your work.
How often your team meets will vary with every project. For example, Aarron’s team of engineers meets daily for quick 15-minute check-ins. All team members answer four key questions:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What are you doing today?
- Do you have any roadblocks?
- How much more time do you need?
This allows Aarron to help remove any barriers and make adjustments to enable his team’s success.
Benefits of Agile
After their discussion, Rachel summarized several of the benefits of Agile for any organization, including those in the philanthropic sector:
- Visibility and shared context: Agile provides clarity around everyone’s roles and work. All team members can see how they are contributing to the vision and delivering value.
- Team alignment: The framework ensures all individual work connects to your organization’s mission and vision.
- Speed and efficiency: By using an iterative and responsive approach, teams avoid delays and “rabbit holes” and, ultimately, can work more quickly and effectively.
Additional Tips from Rachel
Rachel concluded by sharing two additional tips for getting work done:
- Write down your goals
And when you write them down, make sure they are specific, actionable, and have due dates. According to a study by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, “You are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.”
- Don’t try to multi-task
Instead, try to focus on one thing at a time, or “monotask,” to really make progress. Young professionals—take note! This is both true and freeing! Take it from someone who long believed my success was based on my ability to multi-task (I even highlighted this as a skill on my resume for years!). Not every job or project enables you to do just one thing at a time, but stack similar work together to minimize context shifting, which will help you to be more efficient and effective. Save yourself the stress and embrace monotasking!
Watch Rachel’s short 5-minute video to learn more about how to actually get work done.
Join the Conversation
What are your organization’s most effective project management tips and strategies? Join our Work Smarter, Not Harder conversation in Compass, Foundant’s online community for philanthropy, to share your ideas and ask questions.
Want to learn more about Agile?
Check out Foundant’s Agile-related resources, including a blog article, podcast episode, and webinars featuring other industry experts: