What is Focus?

Have you ever been working on a development effort and felt like you were on an endless merry-go-round? Did you ever participate in meetings or procedures without knowing why you were there in the first place? Are things that your are doing, or that your team is doing, stale?

If you have answered yes to any of this (and we’ve all been there in one way or another), then you are experiencing life through a blurred lens. Your doing things without focus, without direction, without purpose.

Definition

If you go to the dictionary, you’ll find the following definitions for focus:

1a a center of activity, attraction, or attention 
1b a point of concentration
2directed attention emphasis
So, taking this definition and applying it to what you do, would you say there is a point of concentration in what you are doing? If you are building software, what is the reason your are building it? What were the business objectives? Why did a bunch of people get together to discuss something to build, taking time out of their normal work to define this new thing?
Or, if you are on a development team, what are you working towards? Does your team know what they are working towards? Would you say they have a goal for a sprint? Does your goal align with the stated objectives? How does your sprint goal line up with the business objective of the overall project?

Benefits

Focus aligns with value. It gives you a reason for what you are doing. Focus keeps things fresh, keeps things moving forward. You need to have focus to align yourself with the agile principle of developing “valuable software”. The focus is what gives value to the software, or thing, that you are producing. In Scrum, Focus is the backbone of a given sprint, encapsulated in the sprint goal. Everyone on the team works together concentrating on reaching the stated goal of the sprint.
Additionally, if your team gets mired in minutia, you can point to the focus, goal, or objective to get the team out of the rut.
This happened recently with a team that I was working with. The development team worked tirelessly over a few months to complete a major feature – something that was going to provide a ton of value to the users of that feature.  With the finishing touches made, all that was needed was a review and some clean up on a migration in order for us to push the feature to production. Well, the team got bogged down in error handling and other details particular to the data. The issues were minor, fixable, but we couldn’t get past these details. At that point, right before we were releasing, we lost focus. We got mired in the details, in the weeds. On our last stand up, where tempers were rising, I helped the team refocus by restating the value that this feature gives to our users. Concessions and compromises were made, action was taken, adjustments coded, and we were able to get back on track as we finally were realigned with our focus.
You can get yourself out of circles and headaches when you refocus yourself and your team.

What happens when you don’t have Focus

There are a number of things that happen when you or your team loses focus. One of the biggest consequences is that you lose sustainability. People get burned out on a project, effort, or company when there is no focus. Like value, sustainability is a key tenant in various agile development frameworks. Even if your team has a good balance of demands and hours, well defined work, works well together, individuals on that team can still burn out. They’ll burn out because something is missing, a purpose, a reason for doing what they are doing, seeing their work be valued and used. This stems, in large part, from a lack of focus.

Where to go from here

Even though focus is a key ingredient to agile-minded teams, work has to be done to build that focus, then translate that focus into the actions of the team. So, when you go to build a feature from a backlog, you should already know which feature is next since it is based on predefined business value, goal, or objective. Having a focus, will creates organization in your work, defines your solution’s road-map, and outlines your business’ priorities.

If you don’t have that down, that is your first thing that you should do. Talk to your stakeholders, project sponsors, team, or customers and define those goals. Build that focus and then work it into everything you are doing. Post it on a whiteboard where everyone can see it if you have to. Try this for three weeks, and see if there is a difference. If you see others that lack focus, encourage them to find a goal, find that purpose, then work towards it. Things will be better, if not easier, when you have done this.

Applying this in your life

As stated in an earlier post, you don’t have to be in software development to be an Agilist. You can apply the principle of focus to all aspects of your life and reap the benefits. Focus can get your though some of the more difficult things you can put yourself through. You can use it to change yourself, surroundings, or situation.

Find that thing that you want to change or improve or achieve that is the most important for you. Now, define your objective or goal that you can achieve in three weeks. For the next three weeks your focus will be on that goal, or desired change. Now, keep that goal on the top of your mind and work towards it everyday. Maybe its is creating a blog, learning a new skill, getting in better shape, or doing that home project that seems overwhelming. Whatever it is, define it and break down the effort needed to complete/achieve it. Review your progress and evaluate it to the effort needed in reaching your goal.

You can stay focused for three weeks. I’ve started waking up early, getting to the gym, and rowing for 5,000 meters each day. I hate every minute that I’m on the stupid machine. But, what gets me through it, is telling myself that I can do this for three weeks and see if it was worth it. If the benefits outweigh the pain, then I can continue this routine until it becomes a habit. Focus gets you to done. 

So, what are you going to do to apply focus in your work or life? How are you going to be an Agilist and change yourself, your surroundings, or your situation? Let me know in the comments so we can track our progress together!

You can see my focus goal and progress here!

Thanks for reading.

Being > Doing

David Bjarnson

My Exercise Sprint Progress Tracker

Rowing Sprint of Death

23%
David Bjarnson

David Bjarnson

David is an agile practitioner for 6 years in various capacities working specifically on software development for a number of different companies. David has his CSM, CSPO, CSP-PO, CSP-SM, and PMI-ACP certifications.

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