Agile plus Mastermind equals Excellence

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Have you ever wondered what would happen if you mixed a Mastermind group with Agile (Scrum) project management methodology? I did, and I set out to try whether it would work or not. In this article, I will explain how I did it, what worked and what did not.

What is a Mastermind Group?

I am not going to explain this idea in detail here. There are already multiple articles on that matter, like the one on Shopify or Wikipedia.

In essence, it is a group of people who support each other in their endeavors to achieve their goals. Although there is not a set in stone way of running a group like this, most of them follow the same template, where everyone has a chance to present their goals and gets feedback on them. In addition, one or two members will have a chance to explore their goals more deeply and get advice on how to achieve them.

Why Does a Group Like This Work?

In my opinion, there are two major benefits coming from a Mastermind group. The first one comes from accountability. If you never act on any feedback or advice, and you never do anything to achieve your goals, you will make a fool out of yourself.

Obviously, we all would like to avoid that so this acts a bit like a little whip. The other benefit is the support and knowledge pool you have access to in the group. Sometimes we need someone to “unlock” us in our struggle; it might be some simple advice, a tool we didn’t know about, or a new contact added to our network which might make a difference.

This is where self-motivation is coming from. Everything seems much easier when we know what and how to do, and we have just that little bit of accountability which does not allow us to say – “I will do it later”.

Why Add Agile (Scrum)?

I am a project manager. I always liked the idea of a Mastermind group, but the execution was a bit too loose. At least the “standard” way where everyone “just” talks about their goals and aspirations, and “just” gets feedback. I wanted to see more structure and more focus on actual deliverables. For me, the best way of staying focused on my goals is to know exactly what, how and most crucially when do I need to do in order to get things done.

The best way I know how to do things that check off three of these boxes is Scrum project management methodology. If you are new to Scrum, I highly recommend reading the following introductions: Agile and Scrum.

In short, the Scrum methodology focuses on dividing an entire project into short periods of work, called sprints. In each sprint, the project team needs to deliver something tangible — a small fraction of work that could be presented to the client, so he can provide some feedback before starting the next sprint. The sprint approach helps to ensure that the client and the project team are on the same page, the workflow goes smoothly, and people don’t waste time on guessing each other’s expectations.  

This is exactly what I was missing in the original Mastermind idea. The focus on getting things done.

The Challenge

The only problem is that Scrum was designed for a small team where everyone works on the same project. In a Mastermind group, everyone has their own ideas, goals, and projects. Creating a detailed project plan, doing daily stand-ups, project documentation etc. simply does not make any sense.

I wanted to find a way, where I can keep the focus on the deliverables but is not too heavy on the project management side. The other requirement was to keep it simple enough, that anyone could join the group and benefit from it.


The Solution

After thinking about it for a while and discussing it with a few friends, here is what I came up with:

The People

  • The group will consist of 4-5 people.

  • Only highly motivated individuals will be allowed to join to keep everyone focused and to have a bit of peer pressure.

The Schedule

  • The group will meet every two weeks in person to discuss each other’s goals for a two-week sprint.
  • There will be a 2-hour time limit for each meeting.

  • In the mid-point (after a week) there will be a progress call (over Skype).

  • There will be 40 minutes time limit for each call.

  • On the progress call, members of the group just inform each other if they were able to get things done.

The Agenda

  • Everyone at the meeting will have 15 minutes per presentation of their goals

  • Maximum of 2 goals can be presented to the group, you can have as many goals you want, but for each sprint, only two are allowed to be in focus.

  • The goal presentation has to contain a good definition of what is exactly going to be delivered after two weeks. The deliverables have to be easy to verify, they have to be tangible. The goal has to be divided into small tasks. Each one has to be estimated how long it will take it to complete and a time in a calendar has to be blocked for that task. The idea behind this is to get better in defining the goal and estimating how much effort it will take it got achieve it. Putting the task on a calendar helps to stay focused on the goal and removes the excuse of “not having time” to get to it.

  • After a goal is presented, everyone in the group can provide feedback to the goal definition, timeline, and overall idea.

How Did I Implement It?

I am already a member of a Toastmasters club, which helped in finding motivated, like-minded individuals. I have assembled a small group of 4. We have found a free community meeting room in which we meet at 8 pm every second Sunday. Sundays are perfect to avoid conflicts with typical personal activities and it also helps us get the week started on a positive note of being prepared for it.

We strictly follow the agenda and at each meeting, we present our goals and discuss how we can achieve them. There is also designated Google Space, where we exchange interesting things related to each other’s goals, which helps to aggregate knowledge in a single spot.

What Worked:

  1. I was actually surprised how much we were able to get done when really focused on our goals. Having a clear vision for a short period of time made everything so much easier and less overwhelming. By tackling smaller chunks of work the feedback is also much more precise and actionable, which again contributes to making things easier.

  2. Meeting every two weeks has proven to work very well, knowing it will happen every two weeks allow us to plan well ahead, we had only one meeting where 2 members could not show up and we didn’t miss a single progress call, which shows how devoted the members are to the group.

  3. Effort estimations have proven to be the hardest part, but after a few failed attempt I think we are getting better. It is very easy to be optimistic about the free time we have and how much we can get done in a single evening or weekend. But, by constantly trying to get better at it and learning from previous mistakes, I think everyone in the group is growing in that aspect very fast.

  4. Planning with a calendar is also working rather well. I particularly like the notifications from my calendar that remind me about my next task. I also have a widget on my android phone, which shows me the agenda for the entire day. That is also helping me stay focused on my goals. I am constantly reminded of them.

What Didn’t Work:

  1. It is very hard to stay focused on one goal per two weeks, for everyone who has never worked in a proper project team or as a part of a Scrum project. I have noticed that some members wanted to change their goals every week, without delivering on them in the first place. The idea of Scrum is that no matter what, by the end of the sprint you have something delivered, and even if the priorities change in the middle of the sprint, you will re-prioritize your work in the next sprint. This is very important as it is very simple to start 20 things and not finish any of them.

  2. Disguising tasks as goals. Taking it easy and splitting one small task into three smaller ones gives a false sense of being busy and following the plan, but the results at the end of the day are simply not there. It takes some time to learn how to properly define a goal and take enough work to push you forward but not get overwhelmed.

  3. One more stick is needed. Peer to peer accountability is not working that well among friends. We needed something more. What we are working now is a penalty of sorts for everyone who is not completing their goals. Each member is choosing the penalty for themselves, the rest are responsible for executing it. The one that I have chosen for myself is that I will pay for a dinner of every other member of the group, but I will not take part in that dinner so I don’t get the social interaction benefit.

The Conclusion

Combining these two ideas seems to be a very good fit. I was able to get so much more done by staying focused on my goals, getting feedback from my friends, and keeping the approach that I know from project management.

I think a group like this will work for everyone who is highly focused on tangible goals. By that, I mean things that have a clear definition and an end date. Goals related to personal or spiritual growth might be hard to structuralize and plan for, with the exception of learning new skills. I think any goals related to growing your business will work particularly well.

My final advice would be for you, the reader to try it for yourself. Get 3 of your friends and go through the exercise. Define your goal, split it into a few tasks, and estimate the effort for each one of them. Put those tasks into your calendar and ask your friends to provide you with some feedback. I am pretty sure that the results will be there in no time. 

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