Agile for Humans

Civic Hall Toronto learns how teams can use “small ‘a’ agile” methods to reduce stress and get more done.

Jason Farra
Dec 21, 2018 · 4 min read
Can agile help your team “hack the hamster wheel” of chronic busyness and multitasking? Photo by Doenertier82 is licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Agile approaches to teamwork and project management, with their focus on planning and learning in shorter increments, can be a big help to time-strapped teams. However, agile frameworks like Scrum — or “big ‘A’ agile” — can be difficult for many of us to apply in the real world. Practices that work well for software and tech don’t necessarily translate well to non-technical teams.

“We really need to change the perception that agile is just for tech”

That’s where Civic Hall Toronto’s Agile for Humans course comes in. Designed specifically for beginners and for people working in non-technical or hybrid teams, it breaks agile methods like Scrum into a set of individual practices — or “small ‘a’ agile” — that anyone can learn and try out with their team quickly. Participants also get hands-on experience with agile tools like team retrospectives, user stories and kanban.

Agile’s “Goldilocks” problem. Full-on “big ‘A’ agile” frameworks are often more than most regular teams need — but a desire to simply be more “nimble,” without the supporting team practices behind it, doesn’t work either. Instead, teams can adopt “agile lite” or “little ‘a’ agile.”

The half-day workshop, facilitated by writer, agile trainer and team health expert Matt Thompson, is designed to help participants “hack the hamster wheel” of chronic over-busyness, multitasking and juggling so that teams can thrive and do their best work.

“Our default way of working has increasingly become broken,” Matt says. “Constant juggling, interruptions and task-switching are not only bad for our brains — they’re bad for the work.”

Agile can help teams better focus on their priorities by working in short, iterative sprint cycles, or “heartbeats,” with the goal of reflecting and learning from their work earlier and more often.

What does small ‘a’ agile look like?

A visualization of the agile sprint cycle, or “heartbeat,” showing how small ‘a’ agile methods help teams prioritize, execute and improve.




Civic Hall Toronto members take part in an Agile for Humans training course on Dec. 4, 2018.

Agile in action

“You don’t want the [agile] process to take over,” he said, as his team chose the practices that worked best for them rather than adhering to a strict framework. For example, they held daily team standup meetings, which helped them identify problems and potential solutions more quickly.

The Ontario Digital Service’s agile process involved a weekly design sprint cycle, starting with brainstorming on Monday, building and testing prototypes in the middle of the week, and reflecting on the process every Friday. This enabled the team to deliver a publicly available beta site in just nine months.

Making agile work for your team

“Agile is simply the ability to continuously focus and improve.”

“We really need to change the perception that agile is just for tech,” Matt said. “I think it offers us an antidote to the Age of Crazy so many of us are living in right now, with a smarter, healthier approach to teamwork. These techniques are too good to just leave to software developers — we just need to translate and simplify them to make them our own.”

Civic Hall Toronto is a non-profit program that enables government innovators, entrepreneurs, technologists and residents to share, learn and build solutions together. To learn more about membership, events, and other programs, visit

Code for Canada

Technology and design for the common good

Jason Farra

Written by

Program Coordinator at Code for Canada. MSc Planning Candidate at the University of Toronto.

Code for Canada

Technology and design for the common good

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