Blog Post: Are You Better At Focusing On The Future Or The Immediate?

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Agile coaches, project and product managers all have their strengths. While the specifics tend to differ wildly, I can usually divide them into two camps: the immediate and the future.

The immediate specialists are awesome day-to-day negotiators of roadblocks and issues that arise on the team. They love spending time with the team, keeping meetings short, and protecting heads-down time. For these leaders, headphones are only used to drown out all the laughter while they answer emails.

Future leaders see the big picture and won’t let anything deter the team from that goal. They schedule time with their headphones and thoughts, fill notebooks with ideas, and only step in when the team really needs them. As my grandfather once told me, these people, “dont sweat the petty stuff and dont pet the sweaty stuff.”

I recognized this in my fellow agile leaders a long time ago, and proceeded to spend just as long deciding which is best. Managers will offer points on which is better for their departments, but the reality is both have a crucial impact on success.

So I spent some time trying to do both.Crazy as it sounds, I asked a ton of questions and tried it.

Most will read this and say we aren’t built this way. Scrum teams are even built to accommodate for both types of thinkers with scrum masters and product owners. One should focus on what needs to be built and the other on how it will happen. That way, the team keeps one eye on the now and the other on what’s next

Problem is, it’s not fair to either role to force them to be the keeper of each flame. With a little discipline, it’s possible to spend some of your time on each. Which area you spend the most time on will depend on your specific role.

Strategists need a lot of time with their heads in the clouds, but that shouldn’t stop them from helping make day-to-day decisions. Project managers should never play in the clouds for too long or current sprints will flounder.

Here are some easy tactics to hone your skills:

  • Schedule some real alone time. I recently started spending a couple of hours on Sundays at my neighborhood Starbucks. Once you remove all of the emails, calls, and walkups, you will be amazed how much you can do in a concentrated period of time. Most productive day of the week by far, and I can make sure I start the week with my eye on what’s coming up.
  • Take your headphones off and ask questions. As much as I love grooving to my jam while cranking out some work, you miss so much when you can’t hear and see what’s going on around you. Developers and testers decry this as the reason for remote work, but if regular breaks are instituted that include purposeful time asking questions of your teammates you will be amazed at the results.
  • Mostly importantly, realize the value in this concept and be okay with the discomfort. Depending on the company and project, I have found myself stuck in ruts with both mindsets. It can be comfortable just putting out fires every day or isolating yourself from the problems that need attention. I have met some amazing leaders who force themselves to go from the ground level to 30,000 feet at a moments notice.

Your teams will see you pay attention to their needs while remembering to keep them focused on the larger goals. Curious to know which one you are, and how you trained yourself to change your focus when needed.

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