Agile Wayfinding


Agile means the ability to respond to change. In a changing world, your ability to learn and respond is one of your most crucial skills to go from surviving to thriving.

J.D. Meier, Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life

Planning involves envisioning a desired future state and identifying the steps needed to get there. I think of planning as navigation. We identify where we are going and how to get there. This applies both to our lives and leading teams.

Navigation also helps explain the differences in approaches to planning.

Conventional planning is like traditional Western navigation. European navigators identified a destination and laid in a course to get there. The journey was about staying on that course, and if something happens, you get back on course.

Agile planning is akin to South Pacific navigators who practiced wayfinding. While these navigators had their destination in mind, they focused on what was the best action to take at any given time to move us towards our destination.

The problem with conventional planning is that at the start of the journey we make many assumptions about what steps we will need to take and what obstacles we must overcome. Often our assumptions turn out to not be correct, yet we still hang onto the course we established. The most famous example of this was Christopher Columbus who laid out a course for India, not aware that there was a whole continent in his way. It was not until his third voyage that Columbus began to realize that he had found a new continent and not a new path to Asia.

Our planned route may not achieve our desired goals for a variety of reasons. One in five new businesses will not survive more than two years. Three out of four businesses will not make it to 15 years. The reasons for this are many. Some ideas were not that good to start. Other ideas were good but undone by events beyond the owners control. Only 60% of students who start college will finish with a degree within 6 years. Only 70% of organizational change programs achieve their objectives. Having goals and a plan are not sufficient.

Sometimes our destination changes. Throughout high school and into my first semester at college, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Recovering from a broken heart, I realized I wanted to do something with my career that I knew I would enjoy. For me, that appeared to be teaching. In my career I have had the opportunity to work with many lawyers, and I have not regretted once my decision to not pursue a law career. A friend from high school made this same transition, but in his case he had finished law school and passed the Bar exam before leaving that behind to become an English professor.

Agile Wayfinding provides an alternative to conventional planning. Agile Wayfinding leverages the idea that we will know more tomorrow than we do today. The opportunity it to learn as we go, and as we learn, to update our planning process.

While Agile Wayfinding uses learning to adjust our plans, it also provides a framework for overcoming analysis paralysis and not taking action while we wait to learn more. Learning comes from when we take action. Until we try something, we do not know how it will or will not work. The more quickly we take action and learn from those actions, the more effective our planning and actions will be.

The Agile Wayfinding process follows a series of five steps ("PMDAD"):

  1. Purpose
  2. Map
  3. Decide
  4. Act
  5. Destination

This framework is a loop. Life is a journey, and the Destination step focuses on answering the question "what next" and then looping back to a previous step in the process, based on the answer to that question.

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