Objectivizing milestones, the Agile way

Posted on: Nov 7, 2021 Written by DKP

Determining when a task is 'done', is often harder than doing the task itself, especially when it involves a creative turn of mind like writing a blog post, painting a portrait, and so on. And going by 'satisfaction' also doesn't work - the creators can almost never be perfectly satisfied with their work, and thus, unless you have a specific stop point, your tasks could end up progressing infinitely. When there're other stakeholders involved, like clients, this problem exacerbates - you say you did your best, but the client still doesn't agree.

The makers of Agile anticipated this problem, and incorporated features and principles in their methodology to ensure that milestones, capacities and goals were objectivised. And it's helpful if we can take a leaf out of the agile book to ensure we are able to arrive at tasks' conclusion much faster.

These are 3 steps that we can take to ensure we're more objective :

1. Objectivizing capacity :#

There's a term in the agile methodology for this - velocity estimation. You have a fixed amount of time and mental resources. You estimate the total number of hours in a day you believe you can work productively for your tasks, and only then take up tasks. For instance, let's say you wish to take up a new side project. In a typical 24 hour work day, you have 8 hours of sleeping, 9 hours of work, and 2 hours of chores, which leaves you with 5. That's your capacity for the day, and you know that even operating at your best, you cannot take up tasks that'd take longer than 5 hours.

This objectivization goes beyond the 'I'll find time to do it today' myth, and instead focuses on a real chunk of time you have available, making you feel less overwhelmed and more in control of your time and energy.

2. Objectivizing acceptance criteria/milestones :#

When is a task 'done'? When does it look 'good enough' to go into the 'Done' category? Unless we have a very clear and objective milestone to achieve, we'll never get anything done to satisfaction. In agile, this takes the form of 'acceptance criteria' for features. Before putting a feature into development, the developer and the product team agree to when that feature will be considered complete to avoid back and forth over expectations.

The same can be, and should be, done with our personal tasks, especially those that require a creative turn of mind. When I first wrote this very post, I never knew what I wanted it to look like at the end, even whether I should write 3 steps or 5. After a lot of confusion that lasted days, I created a set of essential points that I wanted the post to cover, and other features like word limit that I wanted it to have. Only then did I start writing it in earnest and sure enough, I was able to hit the acceptance criteria within less than an hour

  1. Objectivizing habits : We all want good habits. But only a fraction of us actually end up keeping up with our aspired habits for long. And the reason isn't always our laziness and lack of consistency. Often times, habits we plan are so subjective that we don't really know of the next course of action that we should take to keep the streak going, and everyday, we first need to think about what we need to do, and when can we consider our habit done for the day.

Instead of this, having a clear set of actionable items that we should do everyday will slowly switch our bodies to autogear and soon enough, the habits will start coming subconsciously.

In Agile, this takes the form of consistent flows in ceremonies - a daily standup is always limited to answering three questions -

  1. What did you do yesterday

  2. What will you do today

  3. Blockers

A retrospective meeting is always defined by what went well in the previous sprint, and what could have been done better. Converting the subjective into these relatively more objective questions ensures that the ceremonies get completed within time and that they actually do what they're meant to do without losing track.

A simple example of an adaptation in our personal lives is our workout routines. Instead of scheduling 'core workout' twice a week, make it '40 situps and 80 leg rotations' with an increase of 4 reps week on week. This objective goal means that your brain doesn't have to worry about thinking what workout it has to do, only the measurable rep count that needs to be met.

These 3 categories of objectivizing our life facets can therefore, greatly alleviate the progress we make on our tasks and goals.