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In April 2019, Tuhan Sapumanage from Colombo, Sri Lanka was a last-year student at Coventry University (UK), working towards his BSc (Hons) Computing. He was also working as Operations Coordinator at TAC (the largest Social Media Marketing Company in Sri Lanka) and was President-Elect of the Colombo Gavel Club.

He had a lot of plates on his table. There was his degree, his job and his duties with Gavel Club, and a few other things. So he had a high workload and a lot of things to keep track of.

Tuhan explained his goals: “I wanted to systematically allocate my time to each of my duties. Not to give too much time to the wrong aspect. “

“Despite my high workload, I wanted to have time for family, friends and recreation.”

— Tuhan Sapumanage

“I was thrilled by the results. I was able to master my time management problem. Late in 2019, I was appointed Secretary of the All Island Gavel Community. I was able to discover a new passion which is to be an event-host compere (MC) as a hobby.

Cultivating my relationships with friends led to my becoming a recurring guest speaker for a national TV program aimed at giving the youth the opportunity to voice their opinions. And I successfully completed the Bachelors with a first class (with honors) and completed CIMA Mgt Level. Personal Agility also helped me to understand the Agile Module during university.”

The Personal Agility tools that Tuhan used included the 6 Questions of PAS, the concept of What Really Matters (WRM), the Celebrate and Choose Event, the PAS Priorities Map and Breadcrumb Trail, and the PAS Stakeholder Canvas.

Tuhan felt the “Celebrate and Choose” event was the single most important element.

“The Personal Agility System helped me to manage time, or better, helped me to manage myself to use the time available. Rather than get stressed out, I could appreciate what I did. I could take a break without feeling guilty about it. PAS helped me to identify the people who could help me achieve my goals. Asking the right people gave me an inside understanding and support for my future job application. This would not have happened if I hadn’t been using the PAS Stakeholder Canvas.

‘What Really Matters’ helped me establish my personal brand. By knowing WRM, this helped me to avoid chasing distractions.”

 

Sharon Guerin The Culinary Queen

In these case studies on Personal Agility, you will find the true stories, mostly in the people’s own words, of how The Personal Agility System™ helped them change their lives, their companies or both for the better. These stories form the basis of Chapter 2 in Maria Matarelli and Peter Stevens’ book on Personal Agility (download). When Maria and Peter set out to write this chapter, they had an idea what they would find, but even they were surprised by the powerful stories we uncovered.

For Maria and Peter, perhaps the most inspiring case was Sharon’s. She went from struggling to thriving. When she started working with The Personal Agility System (PAS), financing the food for her catering business was a huge challenge. A missed car payment would cause her car to be repossessed. An unexpected bill could have been a disaster. Two years later, she had put that behind her. She could handle life’s bumps like an SUV, both financially and emotionally.

If the Federal Reserve board is correct, at least 40% of Americans are like Sharon. In 2019, 40% of Americans couldn’t cover a $400 emergency expense and two-thirds could not handle an unexpected $1,000 expense. That’s 100 to 200 million people! Imagine if most people had enough control of their lives and that they could handle unexpected events without sweating. We have seen our first cases… Imagine if we could make this a repeatable pattern!

How Sharon went from Struggling to Thriving with The Personal Agility System

Sharon Guerin was an aspiring private chef in St Petersburg, Florida who had dreams of starting a business but didn’t know where to begin. Most of her life was spent as a single mom, and her grown kids still relied heavily on her. While she was working 5 jobs, she struggled to make ends meet and barely got by. She felt stuck and unable to break the cycle that was keeping her down.

“My roadblocks to success were not just related to business. Years of living in survival mode from challenges in my personal life are what kept me from being successful in business, in my career, and in life. Just working on my business would have not been enough. I needed to make changes in my personal life.”

“I was treading water, could barely make ends meet and any unexpected bills were catastrophic. I wanted to have my dream business, however, I didn’t even know where to begin. Being a single mother, I always put my family first at the sacrifice of my own dreams. I did not believe I had the ability really to be successful. I was surrounded by people who were part of my roadblocks and I did not have the faith in myself to be successful. I was so focused on helping my kids and making everyone else happy that I never really thought about what was important to me and where I wanted to see my life go. I had enough of the toxic relationships. I had dreams but I didn’t have a clear path to get there. I was struggling to make any progress towards starting a successful business.”

“I wanted to start my dream business of being a private chef with a successful catering company and I desired to create stability in my life. However, my bank account kept getting hit with fees for insufficient funds. Usually more money went out than came in. I wanted to stop paying so much money to the banks. I just wanted to get ahead in life.”

“I feel more successful than I’ve ever felt before in my life. I feel alive. I feel loved. I feel happy. My family is extremely proud of me and my growth and my kids are more self-sufficient than ever before. The growth of my business has given me a respected place in my community where I’ve catered charity events and cancer benefits for well-known organizations. I had a mindset shift – I started believing I could do it.”

“I used to have 5 jobs, now I have my dream business that brings in more than 6 figures, debt free, which is more than twice the annual income I have ever earned. In 2020, despite the global pandemic that led to the canceling of all events, I have been able to guarantee that I will earn at least as much this year.”

“I also have clarity about myself and what has happened in my life. It feels very rewarding that people trust me with their most memorable events. I feel trustworthy, confident, reliable, and proud. I feel very successful.”

“Today, I am realizing I want to help other people do what I did. “

There is nothing you cannot change. You just need the desire. It’s that simple.

Sharon Guerin

“I was open to learning and putting in the work and just needed a little guidance and direction from someone who believed in me. Working with a coach, taking on a business partner, and access to small loans gave me just the support I needed.”

“My coach believed in me and was committed to my success. I didn’t give up because I knew there was someone in my court cheering me on. My coach helped me focus and sometimes even remember what really mattered to me to help me stay on track.”

“The loans enabled me to improve my cash flow, so I didn’t have issues with overdraft fees. They were again proof that somebody believed in me! Before, I was losing half a month’s income to bank fees, so I could never get ahead. This helped me to break the cycle.”

“My business partner was a mentor who shared essential know-how about running the business, from marketing and promotions to operations and invoicing along with many other aspects of running a business. I didn’t want to let her down. I always went the extra mile even when I felt like giving up. If she believed in me, I had to believe in myself and I always kept going even when things were challenging.”

“Being able to visualize is essential. I put the three things that really matter on sticky notes and stuck them on the dashboard of my car. Health, finances, business. See it, say it, write it. It becomes ingrained, you remember it, and it just becomes a habit.”

“What really matters is like the source of the tree of life. Once you know that, everything falls into place. When you have those things clearly visible, then you make your priorities and you can just delve in to do the right things that help you achieve your dreams.”

Excerpted from Personal Agility. Get the PAS book

 

Many of us have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Why do people stay in that situation. Often because they feel trapped. Like many of the people featured in our case studies, Hugo Lourenco discovered how to say no to things that cost time but did not bring value or happiness.

Hugo is an entrepreneur based in Lisbon, Portugal who owns a consultancy and several other businesses. He wanted to kick off a new generation of products and services for his customers.

Portrait of Hugo Lourenco 300x272
Hugo Lourenco, Entrepreneur, Lisbon, Portugal

“I was working for, or rather involved in, seven organizations. I was working like crazy, but not getting a valuable return on the time that I was investing. I was too busy working to achieve my long-term goals. The problem was that I had to recover from a previous business failure, support my family and reinvent the business. I felt a strong need to accept every paying gig I was offered, regardless of whether it was profitable or serving my long-term interests. I couldn’t bring myself to say no.”

“I wanted to concentrate my efforts on things that matter, have more income and have more focus. Ultimately, I wanted to do things that would put our work and Portugal on the map. I knew I had a lot going on and needed better concentration, and to get more control of my life. I was just working, not enjoying things. I really needed to be able to say no, despite the risks involved, so I could be successful.”

“I started saying no, to myself first, then politely getting myself away from those activities that consumed so much time without bringing any joy. I have more perspective and can make better decisions. I am working smarter, not harder.”

Today, in addition to running his businesses, Hugo is the President of the World Agility Forum and the Experience Agile Conference, two of the most prestigious global conferences in Europe.

“‘What really matters’ helped me find my balance.”

— Hugo Lourenco

“What Really Matters (WRM) played a key role. If I know why I am doing it, I can justify it, even if there are risks involved. Today, I use the PAS Priorities Map every day, as does our staff, so that we all stay focused on What Really Matters.”

“I looked at the organizations I was working with, how much time I spent with them and how much I earned. WRM gave me focus on the 7 organizations I was involved with. Some of them were good for me, others less so. I never prioritized myself, never prioritized quality time. It’s kind of normal for me as an ex-military officer. We live to serve others. But in your own life, that approach can be self-destructive. WRM helped me find my balance.”

The next level – Managing Stakeholders

Seven months after starting with the Personal Agility System, Hugo had shed many non-productive activities, and had taken an engagement as an external Agile Coach and Project Leader for a large consulting company.

“I was taking over the leadership of a project that was to deliver a solution to the customers of my client. The situation was challenging, because there was the client, and the client’s clients, each with their own set of stakeholders and potentially conflicting interests. How do you work with stakeholders in such a complex environment?”

“I needed to figure out what the customers were really looking for. I had a client who wanted to use agile practices for a project for their customers, but the situation was very complex. I wanted to build trust and alignment. The idea was to understand the situation, the stakeholders, and the real issues so I could build trust and the stakeholders would understand what we are trying to achieve.”

“I interviewed all my key stakeholders, both at my client and at their customers, using the PAS Stakeholder Canvas to understand the situation.

“During the conversations, the questions of the stakeholder canvas triggered strong feelings of happiness in people. They told me, ‘I have worked on several projects, but no one has ever asked me about success or failure.’ I was alone with the people, I took time with them, which people don’t usually do. People almost had tears in their eyes, because people never seem to care about them or their contribution. No one in the company had done this before.”

“By the content of the answers, I was also able to identify which people belonged in the project, but also who shouldn’t belong in the project. Some people would take an open-ended question and turn it into a closed-ended question. It became clear that some people just didn’t have a clue.”

“I engaged with and energized the people who belong in the project.”

“I was able to build a good relationship with my client. I was also able to identify who would be a good contributor to the project. Most importantly, I could identify the existential risks to the project.”

 

“I needed to change basic things fast to save the company.”
— Walter Stulzer

Walter Stulzer is the executive director of Futureworks, a creative consultancy in Zurich, Switzerland. In 2017, his company was no longer profitable. “We had liquidity problems, that is we were close to having no money in the bank account. We were about to run into a wall. Without changing things rapidly, bankruptcy was inevitable. I needed to change basic things fast to save the company.”

“The timeframe I gave the team was a year, but we needed to make the turnaround in 6 months. Our Vision was that we are a company focused on bringing value to our customers. People should know why they come to work every morning. Everything they do should produce value for the customer. Obviously, we also wanted to be profitable again, but profitability is a result, an outcome, not the goal of what we do.”

“We did not go bankrupt. People now know why they come to work, we produce value for our customers, and we are profitable. We did have a loss in the first year, but it was a loss that we could afford, and the following year, we were profitable. I considered profitability to be my challenge, not the company’s. I kept the bad news to myself, so people could focus on the right things and not act like ‘a deer in front of the headlights.’

“People know why they come to work every morning. We had lost 41 people in two years and had hired as many. Since then, we have had 2 exits per year, and even these were ‘good’ separations. No one is talking badly about the company.”

In the second year, we were able to fix the problem of delivering value. Previously, we thought we knew what the customer valued, but the customer didn’t always agree. We were able to address this in the second year.

“Without Personal Agility, I wouldn’t have done this.”

— Walter Stulzer

“We had half a year to avoid bankruptcy. The first year was for people to feel secure that they bring value to the customer. The second year was about bringing actual value to the customer, which improved our profitability.”

The Personal Agility tools that Walter used included the 6 Questions of PAS, the concept of What Really Matters (WRM), the PAS Priorities Map and Breadcrumb Trail, and the PAS Stakeholder Canvas. His company also used Scrum to organize and coordinate the work of the leadership team.

The Personal Agility System helps to prioritize and focus. Walter explains, “In a challenging situation, there are so many things you could do. The trick is to do the right thing, but you don’t know in the forefront what the right thing is. So the system helped me make educated guesses about what to do next. Then you do something, you probe and sense to see what happened. The next step is to learn, that is to inspect and adapt. Even if what you did was the wrong thing, you can learn quickly, and the damage from one misstep step is limited. So you have the possibility to reorder, re-prioritize and make a better guess next time.”

For Walter, the most important thing is to “finish every week with satisfaction and to start each week with confidence. This is number one on my What Really Matters column on my Priorities Map.”

Furthermore, Walter’s company uses the Stakeholder Canvas to understand their customers. “We used this as an analysis tool rather than an interview template. This helped me and my team understand what motivates our customers.”

 

Since Maria Matarelli and Peter Stevens started sharing the Personal Agility System, real people from all walks of life have been transforming their lives for the better, both personally and professionally.

When we set out to write Chapter 6, “Case Studies,” we had an idea what we would find, but even we were surprised by the powerful stories we uncovered. One early adopter never believed she could run her own business. Thanks to the Personal Agility System, and some help from her coach, she discovered that she could! She is now so happy by the changes she made in her life. She can pursue her dream in a way she never really thought possible. Another, a successful entrepreneur, was able to unblock his leadership team, expand the potential of his company and get his life back. Work-life balance is not either-or, but rather both-and!

With this post, we are starting to share the case studies that will make up Chapter 6. Let’s start with Shweta Jaiswal. Shweta is the owner of her own startup company in Gurgaon, India where she is an agile consultant and coach. Shweta is also passionate about traveling.

In 2018, Shweta quit her job of 15 years to start her firm. “I thought being my own boss would make my life easier. I was confronted with many different activities, product marketing, website creation, accounting, etc… I had too much to do. It was overwhelming and it was impacting my personal life. I didn’t have time for my kids. Everything seemed very important, but I was not able to get closure on things. The company was not growing and I was not getting any return on my investment. I was wondering whether quitting my job was the right decision.”

“I wanted to be more organized and able to prioritize my work. I wanted to strike a better work life balance and bring my level of stress down. I wanted the company to be more successful.”

“I started feeling that my life was getting sorted out. I was feeling organized and structured. My life no longer felt like a messy picture. Learning to prioritize helped me a long way. The Personal Agility approach became my lifestyle. I don’t have to put any extra effort into doing it. It’s just part of the flow. I automatically reflect on whether something is important or not. I became a better decision-maker.”

“The company is going well. In one year, I have established a good client base. My company has opened the world for me. It is not just training and consulting, we are expanding into workshops, one-to-one coaching, and cultural transformations. The more you feel sorted, the more you can start growing into other areas. So I can now hire people to help. People want to work with me because they know they will grow with me.”

The Personal Agility tools that Shweta used included the 6 Questions of PAS, Celebrate and Choose Event, knowing What Really Matters (WRM), the PAS Priorities Map and the PAS Breadcrumb Trail.

“The Personal Agility System brought in a new discipline to my life. I used the PAS Priorities Map and Breadcrumb Trail to gain clarity. I don’t miss important things. The Breadcrumb trail helps me with reflection and retrospection, so I can see what I have done and can ask myself what I could do better. It helps me not to miss important work, whether personal or professional. I update it every week and look at it every night to see that I did what I intended to do.”

“On Fridays, I look at my PAS Priorities Map and really feel a sense of accomplishment for what I have done (and it is really motivating). Every two months or so, I reward myself with a short vacation because I have usually accomplished so much more than I thought I could. A sense of achievement gives you happiness.”

 

When Maria Matarelli and Peter Stevens started to collaborate on Personal Agility, they did market research to find out what people wanted from a better way of organizing work. Especially from companies, they heard “Perform with Precision,” that is, people need to get done what they are supposed to do when they are supposed to do it. Today’s case examines how The Personal Agility System fulfills that promise.

“The first customer call ruins your plan for the day!”

— Larry Pakieser

Larry Pakieser has been an Independent Contractor based in Denver, Colorado since 2016. Prior to that, he worked over 40 years in commercial service companies, focused on operations. Everything from commercial services and fire system installation to IT Services.

“My current problem is getting things done, and getting them done on time whether for personal, professional or client projects. All my previous attempts were based on managing time. The nature of the services business: you come into the office and the first customer call ruins your plan for the day. As a service provider, you are focused on what matters to other people, not on what matters to you.”

“I don’t like unfinished work. Most of my projects were not finishing or not finished on time. I wanted a system that is simple and robust in guiding me to delivering results ≥ 90% on-time. I wanted to select clients with projects that align to my “what really matters” and with clients who hold values that are compatible with mine.”

I’m in the 75-100% range for timely completions over the last 4 weeks. That’s up from my 2020 First Quarter average of only 24% completion. I’ve already walked away from one potential client because there was no clarity and a huge values mismatch.”

“Equally important, I’ve turned the page and opened up a whole new way to manage myself towards what really matters for me. I have applied various time management techniques since 1993. I’ve tried them all and I have a slew of documents to show how intense and clever I’ve been about trying to get a system in place. Not one of those efforts turned out to be sustainable.”

Since engaging PAS, I have an emerging management system that is better than anything I have encountered. The big difference is I used to manage time, whereas now I manage my work. I can decide which tasks to do now, which to do later, and which not to do at all. With PAS, I am producing completed results at an unprecedented rate and I’m having fun.”

“I started out using the PAS Stakeholder Interview Canvas to qualify projects by talking to the project sponsor and evaluating their clarity. I quickly realized that using the canvas allowed me to go very deep, very quickly—to the point where I could sense their clarity and conviction the more they talked. It allows me to just guide the conversation.”

“The PAS Stakeholder Interview Canvas is adaptable to individuals and their personal or professional initiatives. The magic comes from getting people to think deeply about their challenges. Looking at the transcripts, I can see interconnections that the customer is not aware of.”

“What Really Matters is simply brilliant. It is simple and robust. I get instant clarity when I ask myself the question: If this activity doesn’t add to what really matters for this day, week or month—why am I doing it?”

Excerpted from Personal Agility, by Peter Stevens and Maria Matarelli.

 

Zurich, October 1, 2017. Just in time for Scrum Day Portugal in Lisbon, Maria and I prepared the September, 2017 version of the Guide to Personal Agility.

Thanks to great conversations, especially with Steve Denning, we have realized that Personal Agility descales (takes a big problem and makes it smaller) the problem of creating alignment. Expect to hear more on the subject of “Leadership Agility”!

As always, we are looking for suggestions, corrections, thoughts and feedback! Thanks!

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