PART I: A week in the life of Agile
You know that feeling when you’re rewatching one of your favorite shows? When you fall back in love with the characters, remember all the things you love about the storyline, learn something new about yourself and how you view the world? And despite knowing what’s going to happen, you get the feels all over again?
For us, that’s Agile.
No matter how many times we talk about it, teach it, implement it, or mention it, y’all just want to start from the beginning and have us do it all over again. For some people it’s SVU, Grey’s Anatomy, or Friends. For you, it’s the Agile Methodology. And because we love TV binges allllmmmoost as much as we love you, we’ve decided to deliver (again) in your favorite format (according to the data): weekly emails.
Our goal is that by the end of this blog post, you know what Agile is and how to use it, understand the benefits and how it can change the way you do business, how it can impact every department and customer, and also know your options for enrolling our Agile support if you choose.
S1E1: Let’s go
Some background on Agile
Debates about the best project management software(s) could go on forever — ClickUp, Asana, Monday, Trello, Airtable — it’s hard to know which is best, and it’s also largely based on personal preference.
At CWco., we operate by the Agile Methodology: a mindset, value-set, and way of working that can be managed in just about whatever format you choose — from the notes app on your phone, to the most robust PM you can think of (we’re pretty proud of our ClickUp Builds).
In order to really do this topic justice, I have to backtrack to how I was first introduced to Agile.
In my senior year of college I started actively looking for my first post-college job, and I stumbled across a tech company here in Santa Barbara.
I took an entry-level, part-time cold-calling job, somehow caught the attention of the founder, and was invited to apply to be the first internal recruiter at the company, focused on recruiting and hiring senior level, full stack software engineers.
They shouldn’t have hired me for this job.
I worked my butt off. I was motivated and committed and it was an incredible learning opportunity that STILL informs the way I work today (hence this email series).
But, I knew nothing about software engineering or software development. I didn’t speak the language. I felt super uncomfortable talking to strangers at the time. And I had little sales experience.
I really was not qualified for this job.
So, I learned how to connect with people I had nothing in common with, who by nature, stereotypically, aren’t great communicators.
I learned so much about software development and many of those principles inform how I think about growing CWco. to this day.
In retrospect, I learned a ton about relationship-building and sales.
And…I learned Agile.
The Agile methodology was designed by software engineers for software engineers. I was in the HR department at the time, but I still used it so I could better communicate with the hiring managers and software team I was an extension of, and I came to love it. I implemented it at a national F/B startup company, both with the leadership team and across all our city teams (about 170 employees). I implemented it at CWco. since day one — as a team of one. I share it with all of our consulting clients. At CWco. my team is expected to work Agile, and has embraced it too. And now we’re offering ClickUp builds with Agile as the backbone (and the thing that sets our builds apart from others).
To be clear — I didn’t invent this. I’ve just continued to find new applications for it every day since 2016, in a huge range of contexts, and believe it to be one of the most impactful concepts for CWco. to date.
What is Agile?
Before talking about what Agile is, it makes more sense to talk about why, first:
The Agile Methodology allows you to respond to changes in the marketplace or feedback from customers quickly without derailing a ton of work, planning, or effort.
Shipping (that’s software speak for ‘delivering a product to a customer’) in small, frequent increments lets your team gather feedback on each change and integrate it into future plans.
As a result, Agile teams deliver value faster, with greater quality and predictability, and have a stronger ability to respond to change.
Agile focuses on effectiveness, not dogma.
Obviously, we love it. Practical tool to dismantle the status quo and do a better job for the people who matter — our customers? Done.
Now that you know why, let’s talk about what it actually is:
Agile is a mindset, a set of principles, and a way of working — in that order.
It’s the ability to:
- Respond to change
- Deal with, and ultimately succeed in, an uncertain environment
- Deliver a better product with less friction
(You know how we say we get you where you want to go fuller and faster? We’re not blowing smoke. This is how.)
Agile is iterative in its approach: instead of going all in on a big event or launch, an agile team delivers work in small, but consumable, increments. Everything is evaluated continuously, allowing faster responses and adjustments.
Here are some examples of what that means:
- Tight feedback cycles → continuous improvement (product is always getting better)
- Responsive to development requests → reduce waste and time to market (pivot with grace)
- Align development with customer needs → high-quality products (give the people what they want!)
There are 12 principles to Agile — you can read them here
How do you Agile?
The first step to Agile is ditching a Waterfall way of working. Waterfall looks like this:
- You have an idea
- You map out every detail of that idea: scope, tasks, timeline – the more granular the better
- You prepare for things that haven’t come up yet, often allocating resources to “what ifs”
- You don’t take action until you have everything ready
- You do one thing at a time, working linearly
Sounds fine, right? It could be — for sure. But what if there’s a global pandemic that fundamentally changes the way we live our lives? What if a cultural event makes the campaign you’ve been working on for 6 months tone deaf and harmful? What if your team member responsible for carrying out that activation goes on maternity leave? What if YOU go on maternity leave?!
Agile is the opposite of waterfall:
- You have an idea
- You map out enough info to know what your first 1-5 steps are
- You take action right away, to create a consumable product
- You deliver it to your customers, get feedback, and make changes (then, rinse and repeat this over and over)
- Your departments are all working on a different part of the project at the same time, and everyone knows what everyone else is working on. You move forward in the ways that you can, not letting the things blocking you prevent you from taking any action at all
- You continuously make your product/operations better
- Your users tell you what they want to see next
If you’re working agile you have the opportunity to make important decisions once you have the data to inform them, likely saving you a lot of costly trial and error. You have the ability to pivot quickly without losing a ton of money you spent on plan A already. You have the capacity to do more, faster in a methodical and intentional way.
The mechanics of Agile go like this:
You create Sprints. A sprint is a set amount of time that resets on a predetermined schedule. For example, one week sprints that start/end on Mondays.
You work your Sprints. Within any given sprint (let’s call it one week), you work on a specific list of things. You don’t stray from this list. If something comes up, it goes on the next sprint (or a later sprint). This means you’re not spending resources NOW on something you don’t need until 3 months from now (so much can change in 3 months anyways).
You recalibrate between Sprints. This is called a Scrum. You pause in between every sprint (for example, if you sprint Monday to Monday, you’d scrum on Monday) to integrate learnings, give feedback, set priorities, and choose which next action makes the most sense.
You can track your sprints in a spreadsheet, a Gdoc, or in a project management software like ClickUp.
I’ve tried all three, and I’ve learned that when you use a PM system, your sprints can become the backbone of everything that’s going on in your business, especially as you grow. Our sprints are the backbone to:
- Infrastructure evolution
- Client deliverables
- Content creation
- Long term projects
Among other things.
- Agile is a faster, more efficient way to get to where you’re trying to go
- It revolves around taking action even when and especially when you’re not prepared for every scenario
- It’s the reason CWco. has been able to grow so quickly and by extension, how we get so much done for our clients
Now, let’s check in to see what this actually looks like on a day-to-day basis:
A week in the life of Agile
Let’s look at a week in the life of Agile. We’ll model it the way we do our Sprints at CWco. — one week sprints that reset on Mondays.
- Your sprint automatically re-sets in ClickUp, rolling last week’s unfinished items over onto this week’s sprint.
- You log on and open up this week’s sprint to look at what’s on your plate this week.
- Your sprint shows everything you’re responsible for with priorities and due dates. Pulling in from multiple locations, lists, and departments into one place, your sprint minimizes the risk of something falling off your radar.
- Your sprint shows time estimates, helping to avoid overloading your week or falling behind, and also balancing items that will take more time vs knocking out small tasks.
- You get caught up from the weekend, handle anything urgent, and create your plan for this week. You add your updates and questions to the scrum meeting doc.
- You meet with your team, run through status updates by department, giving each person the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and get what they need to be set up for success for the week.
- Your whole team shares one sprint. This means you can easily filter by assignee, so as a manager, you can see what’s on everyone’s plate or the week (and everyone else can too — full transparency = full ownership and collaboration).
- Sprints are organized in statuses (not started, in progress, in review, blocked, complete), allowing you to know where each task stands, and filter by what needs to be done next.
- You get to work on your sprint, tackling a high-priority item for the week right away
- You work through your sprint, either grouping items by function (ex: all podcast related things on Tuesday) or completing items in order of priority (high priority items first).
- You know you can sort and filter your sprint by department or function, time estimate, or other custom factors. You also know that you can click into any item on your sprint to find a description, links to other documents, or a conversation history between other team members.
- If you run into a block with one item, you can submit a question or request and move to another item on your sprint.
- Since everything is slated for the week, you have choice and flexibility for what you work on when, as long as everything on your sprint is complete by Monday.
- Since your PM system is pulling in all your tasks from multiple locations (ex: client onboarding list, podcast episode tracker, content queue, client projects, team onboarding list, etc) into one place, you know the full scope of what’s needed from you that week, so you can focus on the work at hand instead of hunting down information.
- You’re able to juggle a wide variety of tasks, moving quickly through them.
- You finish up your sprint, making sure that you got to everything you needed to. The goal is that no items roll over from this week to next week.
- You prep your scrum agenda and sprint for next week, perhaps leaving one or two things for a Sunday work session.
- Optional: you complete a low-priority item on your sprint
- Optional: you prep your scrum agenda and update your sprint for next week
Part II: Agile Project Management
The best way I can think to explain Agile PM is with yard work. More specifically, I’m going to introduce you to a term you probably didn’t know existed:
Noun: the person who has been assigned the role of moving, fetching, handing, or sorting rocks for/to the person who is actually in charge of the project, who is using the rocks as part of their landscaping vision.
My family and I coined this term in a fit of laughter about the endless yard work-related projects happening at our house (and the unfortunate but very predictable instance of being assigned the Rock Bitch role).
After finishing up renovations on our house in March this year, before a wedding I’m hosting at our house in October, and smack dab in the middle of peak yardwork season, I find myself in the role of…Lead Rock Bitch.
Turns out, my parents were just training me for successful Adulting the entire time.
As we chip away at landscaping our backyard (and moving so. many. rocks.) in the hopes of having a completed space by October 15th 🤞🏼I can’t help but think about how Agile informed my success as Lead Rock Bitch this summer.
Here’s what I mean:
After weeks of putting off landscaping duties, I realized it was crunch time: we had a set number of weeks to complete a set amount of work (oh hello, Sprints, welcome back to the party).
I knew that getting all the landscaping done at once wasn’t an option (when I’m not Lead Rock Bitch, I moonlight as a business owner, partner, friend, daughter, dog mom, and hopeful functioning human).
So, I sprinted out our yardwork, giving us the opportunity to make continuous improvements over the course of the summer, continue to move forward within the bandwidth available, and work collaboratively (ie divide and conquer).
A silly example, I know.
Here’s a more business-forward use case:
Agile Project Management looks like executing tasks on a set cadence (Sprints).
- Our team can work on multiple projects at once, because each individual project has only 1-2 deliverables per perr
- Our clients see progress on their project every week, giving them the gratification of seeing it come together
Here’s an example of how we project-manage a brand messaging project in the Agile way:
Week 1 (onboarding)
- CWco. Client Support: Request assets from client
- Client: Client submits assets
- CWco. Project Management: Prepare project (in ClickUp) based on scope of work
Week 2 (onboarding)
- CWco. Strategy: Audit client assets, prepare audit report
- CWco. Client Support: Prepare kickoff call agenda, send along with audit report
- CWco. Project Management: Schedule internal brief meet with project team, update ClickUp project
Week 3 (Project start)
- CWco. (all): Kickoff call
- CWco. Strategy: Strategy session
Week 4 (Project implementation)
- CWco. Strategy: Finish ICA profile, write brand story
- CWco. Project Management: Update client, send asset for client review
Week 5 (Project implementation)
- CWco. Strategy: Make revisions to brand story
- CWco. Copywriting: Write brand pillars, manifesto 1, manifesto 2
- CWco. Project Management: Update client, send new assets for client review
Week 6 (Project implementation)
- CWco. Copywriting: Make revisions to brand pillars, manifesto 1, manifesto 2; Write bio, origin story
- CWco. Project Management: Update client, send new assets for client review
Week 7 (Project wrap up)
- CWco. Strategy: Final review and handoff meeting
- CWco. Copywriting: Make revisions to bio, origin story
- CWco. Project Management: Send final assets to client
- CWco. Client Support: Support client through offboarding
We can not only predict, but also adjust our project timelines based on our team’s capacity, with Agile as the backbone to inform what happens when. This allows us to:
- Manage expectations upfront
- Offer full transparency on progress (and upcoming)
- Hold our team accountable
- Stay organized with a full project plate
A note on that last point: we’re able to work on a relatively large number of projects (concurrently), with a relatively small team (proportionally) by managing our project load this way.
Plus, we can plan ahead for things like OOO at the start of our projects, minimizing delays and disruptions.
Implementing Agile requires your entire team to know, use, and rely on the methodology. And that requires having the right systems, documentation, and communication channels in place to do so.
Big changes like internal processes (ie switching to Agile) require modeling by the leader, facilitating the transition by a qualified and objective third party, and the right documentation and technology configuration to fall back on.
Here’s how we can help:
- Let us build out your CRM (ex: Dubsado) for a seamless client onboarding and offboarding experience
- Let us build out your PM (ex: ClickUp) for a reliable container for your Agile way of working your entire team can rely on
- Let us guide you through transforming your organization (no matter its size) from clunky and friction-y to nimble, efficient, and agile
And, no matter how you work with Curate Well Co., as a client, you’ll experience Agile first hand.
Part III: Agile isn’t only about speed
There are a few principles of Agile that might lead you to believe that not much development on a product happens before you (the end user) sees it:
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
While we work in tight feedback loops and “ship” updates to everything from our client experience, to our project management protocols, to our offerings themselves quickly, we also know the value of satisfying the customer.
Agile isn’t only about speed.
It’s equally about quality. See a few other principles here:
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
In other words, pushing updates fast won’t make you agile if your “software” (your products or services) don’t work, and/or weren’t created with technical excellence and good design in mind.
Agility isn’t just moving quickly. It’s moving quickly with ease (or without friction).
Yesterday, I got served an ad for Color Camp — a company that pivoted from non-toxic nail salon to e-commerce shop for at-home, reusable, and bespoke press-on gel nails.
- Great targeting
- Way to pivot! (I assume this was a COVID pivot, and a darn good one at that).
Here’s how it works:
- Color Camp sends you a sizing kit
- You return with your size and length preferences, and choose your design from their online shop
- Their nail art team based in LA makes your custom set of press-on nails *to order* and sends you a kit that includes everything you need to apply and remove them
- You can reuse them up to 3 times
Here’s what I love about Color Camp as an excellent example of Agile:
They responded to consumer needs and feedback, in a changing context out of their control (talk about harnessing change for the customer’s competitive advantage), and did an exceptional job aligning their company’s goals and core values (changing the way people get their nails done for the better) with their customers’ needs (a location-independent, high quality manicure solution).
While Color Camp seemingly pivoted quickly, gained traction, and adapted smoothly, I have no doubt a ton of development went into their seemingly overnight success that we, as consumers, didn’t see.
- Optimizing their fulfillment pipeline to ensure smooth delivery of the manicure kits
- Market research and testing to know which designs to keep in their shop, and which to switch seasonally
- Making user instructions clearer so their product can be consumed and enjoyed the right way
Months of work goes into the responsive, intuitive, this-is-so-freaking-smart solutions you come to love.
At Curate Well Co. we typically spend ~6 months on development before you (our end user) see a product from us — whether it’s a new service, our podcast, or an announcement about a big expansion.
Here’s what happens during that 6 months:
— Conceptualization: We start with an idea, filing in the vision until it feels like enough to action.
— Research: We conduct interviews, ask questions, do research, and gather information on our idea.
— Planning: We start planning the execution of our idea by creating a project, and sprinting out key milestones.
— Testing: We create a minimally consumable product, and test it on a small subset of customers. Our focus here is building out our product enough to satisfy a specific and small group of people.
— Beta release: We release a beta version of our product to a slightly larger group of people who express interest in it. Our focus during this period is working through “bugs” or glitches. We’re asking: how effective is our product?
— Enrollment: While the product is in beta, we’re also focused on enrolling our larger community into the idea and development. While we’re gaining buy-in, we’re also paying attention to necessary changes that need to happen — it’s never too late!
— Ship: This is probably when you actually see the product! But, note that up until this point, we are “shipping” our product before it’s “ready”, making improvements while delivering it. We don’t wait until all the before has happened to start selling our product and making it consumable.
Not only does this benefit you as a business because:
- You can take an idea to market faster than many of our ‘competitors’
- You can earn revenue earlier in the process of launching a new product
- You can make *informed* improvements that better serve your users
- You reduce waste of time, effort, and money by focusing on high-impact changes
It will also benefit your clients and customer because:
- They feel you’re more responsive to requests and feedback
- It fundamentally puts them first (before dogma or documentation)
Until next time, here are a few Agile resources we recommend if you’re ready to get started right away.
Resources we love:
Inside the Curate Community Membership
From our Full Stack team
You can hire CWco. to build out your project management system with Agile as the backbone (see ClickUp Build) or, you can have us turn your whole business Agile, through a combination of Consulting and Configuration (see Agile).