The Reluctant Agilist

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Personal Agility Canvas

(Originally Posted on

“What kind of idiot would ask if they were Agile enough? What a stupid question.” 
Random guy I heard talking at an Agile conference


It was kind of a troublesome moment for me. (I have lots of those whenever I find myself in a crowd of Agile banty roosters who all want to play “mine’s bigger” with their Agile-ocity-ness-ish.)

For me, I ask that question all the time. I wear my hard earned experience in waterfall as a scarlet PMP that has been seared into my soul. When I was taught about project management, the guy who taught it to me started by saying “When I’m done with you… everything is a project.” And with that statement, he began to re-wire my brain. Once you learn to see things the way a PM does, there is no going back. And no matter how long I practice Agile, that will always be with me. I am a project manager in recovery.

The good part is, that if the question is “How will I know when I am Agile enough?”, I already know the answer… Never. The moment you think you’ve got Agile sorted is the moment you stop being Agile. So, somewhere in the back of the Agile recesses in the brain, you need to nurture your inner Captain Willard. 

I often get the question about being Agile enough when I am teaching Scrum classes to PMs or people who are deep with the waterfall. They either want to know the “right” way to do it, or when they are “done” learning it and can say they are Agile.

I decided to work on developing some way to address the question that would be both simple to use and relevant for people who are just stepping out of the waterfall, and people who have been doing Agile for awhile. 


The result is the Personal Agility Canvas

The Personal Agility Canvas is modeled after the Business Model Canvas (which you can learn more about here. I kept the basic layout because I thought it might be somewhat familiar and that might make it easier for people to digest. The Personal Agility Canvas is intended to be a way to personally reflect on your ability to improve your approach to Agile, establish goals, and develop a plan to achieve them. It is not intended to be something you fill out and then are done with. This is intended to be something you come back to again and again as part of your own personal effort to inspect and adapt.


In teaching the Personal Agility Canvas during the Redefining the PMO workshops, I have found that not providing step by step guidance on how to work through the different boxes can cause result in stress for the students. To help get you started, here is an example which has the boxes numbered (hyperlink) according to the order in which I normally teach them. In my own use of it, I begin with Goals, then move to Value Proposition and iterate repeatedly through the boxes until I am ready to define the Action Plan. If you are creating your own Personal Agility Canvas, I’d recommend working through the boxes in whatever way makes the most sense to you. As long as you end up with a measurable Action Plan at the end, it’s all good. 

Here is a description of each box:

Value Proposition - What is your personal value proposition? How do you deliver value to the teams you work with, the company you work for? How will an improved approach to Agile better enable you to serve your team(s) and organization?

Goals - What are your goals with moving further in your transition to (adoption of) Agile? How will you know when these goals have been achieved? (You need clearly measurable acceptance criteria for this to work.)

Strengths - What abilities, experiences, behaviors will you be able to leverage to strengthen your transition to Agile?

Desired Changes - What have you already identified that needs to change in order for you to better support an Agile approach? (This may include things like behavior, speech, mindset, interaction patterns)

Fears/Concerns - What about Agile, or transitioning to Agile causes you anxiety or stress? How does this impact you?

Interactions with Others - In evaluating your interactions with other people (teams, clients, peers, etc.) what is not in sync with the principles of Agile? (You may need assistance with seeing this clearly.)

Environment - What about your (individual and/or team) physical workspace is impeding your ability to improve your approach to Agile?

The Mark Inside - This will likely be the most difficult box to complete. William Burroughs said “Hustlers of the world, there is one Mark you cannot beat: The Mark Inside.” The idea here is that whether we are aware of it or not, each of us is often our own worst enemy. We con ourselves without even realizing it. How are you blocking yourself from truly embracing an Agile approach? Where are you second guessing the thought leaders who have come before you or hedging your bets with your practice?

Actions Needed - After completing all the other boxes and re-reviewing your goals, you need to develop a plan. These should be concrete steps you can take in the short term to help you move towards becoming more Agile.  Once you have completed these actions and achieved the goals, it is time to start your canvas all over again.

Accountability Partners

One last suggestion. Find someone you trust who will give you honest feedback and hold a mirror up to show you things you cannot see.  By sharing your canvas with an accountability partner, you can make a commitment to someone other than yourself. Ideally, each of you will pursue these goals because this is something you are committed to, but there may be times when your motivation lags. When this happens, it may help to have a voice in the back of your head reminding you that you promised someone you’d have it done and that they are expecting to hear from you when it is finished. 


And on that note… here is an example of a Personal Agility Canvas I completed for myself earlier this Spring. 

If you have any feedback on the canvas, how it is working for you, what might make it better, please let me know. I do not expect that this current version will be the final one, but it is the one I am using now.

If you’d like to learn more about how the Personal Agility Canvas works, it is part of the session I am leading for Redefining the PMO

Posted on: September 08, 2014 11:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

"You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair."

- Chinese Proverb