Agile Life Planning: Defining Tasks to Achieve Goals Part 2

Agile Life Planning: Defining Tasks to Achieve Goals Part 2
In the first part of our article we talked about goals and how to divide them based on whether we want an eventual outcome or a permanent result or effect. Now we will look at goal decomposition.

Step 2. Goal decomposition

Now, let’s see how we can split the goals in order to work on them efficiently. The main idea of decomposition is to determine for each “goal” a set of specific actions and tasks, and for each “capability” — a set of required habits.

I think the best way to do that is to use an Agile tool such as Impact Mapping. Within IT processes, this technique enables you to build and visualize a map of dependencies, conditions, and steps that are necessary to deliver a business goal for a software product being developed. To work on life goals, it is also important to build from them a single structure with links and dependencies, determine the main steps and build a scheme of how to transition from high-level goals to specific actions. Plus, for Impact Mapping you can use mind maps to visualize the whole picture.

The classical Impact Mapping method offers the following sequence of question levels: Why – Who – How – What. But for Agile Life Planning, in order to keep the main principle of building a map, I propose to use a different sequence of questions: Where – How – What. It works similarly well for both types of goals that we defined earlier: for one-time “goals”, and for permanent “capabilities.” So let’s consider the Impact Mapping stages for personal goals:

Where?
  • First, for each goal ask the following question: “WHERE changes should be made?” In what sphere of life should you take actions to achieve the goal or develop the capability?
  • Here it is important to outline all possible spheres of goal achievement, because the goal may be related to several spheres simultaneously.
How?
  • Next, ask yourself: “HOW can I achieve the goal?” In what way can you achieve the goal or develop the capability?
  • Here we determine a set of approaches and options to achieve the goal in every sphere of life with which the goal is connected.
What?
  • And finally, ask the question: “WHAT should be done?” What exactly should be done, performed, and what problems should be solved in order to achieve the desired result?
  • This step help determine the tactical and independent actions that must be performed in order to achieve the goal.
A couple of examples of decomposition

1. Decomposition for finite “goals.” For a one-time goal, we again give a financial example (they are simple and obvious). Suppose, you want to double your savings (or you want to increase them by a certain specific amount) within the next year. 

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2. Decomposition of “capabilities.” In the backlog, for example, you have an excellent, global but rather vague goal: you want to increase the level of your life energy. 

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Having done such an exercise for each goal, you can better understand what actually lies behind it, and second, see possible ways and alternatives of achieving it. When you complete Impact Mapping for your own goals, you can easily “throw out” some of them, and discover absolutely new ways of implementation for others. The main thing is that you get a visually compelling “road map” for the journey to your goals. First, using Impact Mapping, you mentally go from general to specific, from milestones to tasks, and thus draw a route for moving in your real live from specific actions to goals.

The result of decomposition is a list of tasks for goals, and a set of habits for capabilities. These detailed and mostly independent tasks and habits can then be planned for fulfillment/development and you can work on them on a daily basis.

Step 3. Visualizing the structure of capabilities and goals

And a few more words about efficiently structuring sets of habits, goals and tasks made at the previous stages. For visualizing and working with the mind map, I would recommend you use MindManager . This is an excellent tool to build mind maps, and it can be smoothly integrated with other office programs, enabling you to transform a mind map into a project plan, set tasks in the calendar, and so on. Besides, it is very intuitive and easy to use for managing your mind maps. For example, you can easily apply various markers, tags or filters to display required sets of goals.

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You can build a goal map in MindManager as follows:
  • Create 3 main groups: goals, habits, and undefined.
  • Divide the group “GOALS” into sub-sections for different spheres of life. Then move to each of the sections the tasks defined through decomposition.
  • Divide the group “CAPABILITIES” into 2 parts: regular actions and behavior patterns. Include in each of the subsections the habits defined through decomposition, which consist of certain regular actions or which must become part of your permanent behavior.
  • Your unprocessed backlog of goals is a home bank for new undeveloped and unanalyzed additions and ideas. They are still to be built into the overall structure.
Why do you need all that and what should be done next?

Actually, the first two stages of Agile Life Planning are about transforming your list of goals and tasks into a format that will be easy to work with. At the previous stage, we downloaded all possible goals and aspirations from our head and moved them onto an external media. At this step, stage 2, we have categorized our goals, formed them into a single structure — a mind map, and for each goal we determined a set of tasks and actions to achieve them. We have passed through the preparatory stages, and now we have everything in place to start planning, regularly performing tasks in order to move on to the set goals.

The next steps Agile Life Planning will cover the updating of the goal map, regular action planning, and analyzing outcomes. In fact, all these stages work in parallel, and they are needed for daily work on tasks and habits in order to effectively control their performance and constantly improve the process itself.

Pavel Novikov 
Program Manager

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