Personal Improvement

Agile Living

Measure economic progress, Proactively experiment to improve, Limit work in process, Embrace collective responsibility, Solve systemic problems
Agile Base Pattern Summary, Erik Gibson

What I’m looking for in the dharma is not just a set of effective self-help techniques, stripped of philosophical and ethical context. I’m seeking to find a way of life.  —Stephen Batchelor

Two years ago, I paused writing about agile practices. Many factors contributed: I was considering a move to Asia, I was separating from my spouse of 28 years (amicable, but complex), a friend offered me a management position in his biotech company. It became less urgent to write about agility, than to address more immediate needs. But while I didn’t write about agility, I used agility in my personal life.

Despite this hiatus, complex thoughts about agile were building. In an InfoQ interview, Lyssa Adkins and I explored how the fifth agile base pattern—collaborate to fix systemic problems—challenged individual contributors to develop and employ diplomacy skills. In a shocking presidential campaign, Donald Trump used what I realized were highly agile techniques, and won. I helped a client organize and deliver a complex internet-of-things application. I faced relationship challenges, not just in separating from my spouse, but also in establishing who and what I could count on. I had to examine myself: how had I created the life I was leading and the instability I was facing? I discovered so-called assets, like a house I helped build and even my own sense of responsibility, limited my career and personal options—maybe they weren’t assets after all. My aging parents began having serious health problems.

With each challenge, I found myself relying on the agile base patterns for guidance: What economic metrics would reveal how well client diplomacy was aligning superiors and ecosystems in solving problems? Which hypotheses were the Trump campaign testing on the American electorate? How could we limit work-in-progress in my client’s filtration product, with environmental sensing, maintenance monitoring, wifi-based remote control, massive data gathering and machine intelligence? How could I take personal responsibility for my life, refusing to blame others and taking rapid, fearless action to forge a new path? How could I diplomatically encourage my parents to fearlessly and rapidly address their health challenges?

Today, at work, I am helping apply agile patterns to a complex work challenge: developing the electronics, firmware, software, biochemistry, fluidics, mathematics and market development of a general purpose diagnostic device. It’s internet-of-things plus more.

But you and I are tackling an even bigger challenge: how can we compose fulfilling lives, with bright careers, happy relationships, physical health and emotional stability? I growingly think applying the agile base patterns to life’s challenges and its overall purpose could be a useful approach. And so, posts going forward will include applications and discussions on personal topics as well as work.

We may find agile methods are not just a set of effective techniques, but help develop a philosophical and ethical framework for living: a way of life.

I hope you join me in this exploration. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or questions, to

By Dan Greening

Dan Greening is a serial entrepreneur working on his fourth startup, where he leads implementation of two agile practices, Lean Startup and Scrum. Between the third and fourth startup, he was the lead agile coach for Citrix Online, Skype, Overstock, and other companies. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from UCLA. He is a Certified Enterprise Coach with the Scrum Alliance, and a Scrum@Scale Trainer. He has published innovative work on agile management, parallel processing, and chaotic systems.

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