It has been nearly two months since the day I got married. The day was complete with guests, a picturesque lakeside venue, beautiful florals, officiated ceremony, wedding games, and dinner reception. All this amidst a global pandemic. Despite the seemingly insurmountable degree of stress and uncertainty leading up to the big day, we were incredibly happy with how everything unfolded.
As with many couples, we had never planned a wedding. Despite the advice from other couples who had already been in our shoes, almost nothing could have prepared us for what was in store for us.
In the paragraphs that follow, I outline how an agile approach to project management helped me survive planning my wedding, and more so, getting married amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
But First: Why Go Agile in The First Place?
The first step to undertaking any new project is understanding its core characteristics and identifying an appropriate response.
The Cynefin Framework is a conceptual framework used to aid decision-making based upon classifying the project within a specific problem domain and then selecting an approach to address the inherent challenges. The four domains below intend to classify a particular project based on how the variables of time, scope, and cost interact against each other:
Clear (aka Obvious)
In this problem domain, the challenges —and the variable of time, scope, and cost— are known. Typically, we have seen this type of project executed thousands of times, and we can respond to it using already established best practices. A waterfall approach to project execution is well-suited here.
This domain deals with some unknown elements that affect the degree of difficulty in successfully executing the project. While we are not in control of one of the variables of time, scope, and cost, we can analyze the situation and conclude what must be done. We can leverage some agile approaches here —such as Six Sigma, ITIL, Lean, or Kanban— to control time and cost if the scope, for example, is unknown.
This problem domain delves deep into the realm of the unknown. In this situation, you know what you are trying to achieve, but you are unsure of how the variables of cost and scope, for example, will impact the project. The best course of action here is to experiment continuously and deliver on an incremental basis so that you can check if your projected path is on course. A scrum-based agile approach is ideal in this type of situation.
This domain reflects the high degree of instability of the project. Given that there is relatively little agreement on the project vision and the degree of certainty is low, there is no time to experiment or investigate since things are dire, and we need to act. You are ultimately a pioneer in executing the project and containing each variable of time, cost, and scope.
How Does All This Relate to Planning a Wedding?
Well, planning a wedding during normal times may require some degree of flexibility based on an unknown variable, such as scope (e.g. what your big day will actually look like). Despite that, you will know with a high degree of certainty the date that you will be getting married on and a good sense of what your budget will be to plan out the big day.
Conversely, planning a wedding during the uncertain times of a major pandemic introduces a higher degree of complexity. While you may be determined to get married on a specific date (as was my case), you may not know precisely how the day will unfold and at what cost. That is why employing an agile approach to project execution, and in particular, the scrum-framework is best-suited to address this type of challenge.
Early and Continuous Delivery
A core principle of being Agile is the early, continuous delivery of the product/service increment. This principle was a critical component in supporting our planning efforts.
At the start of our planning process, we made a list of all the things that needed to get done for the wedding [aka the product backlog]. Then, every one to two weeks, we asked ourselves the following question: what can we complete in a timeboxed period that will ultimately move the wedding planning forward [aka the sprint backlog]? Every couple of days, we would get together to review our progress. The key was to pick the right things to work on at the most reasonable time.
For example, imagine if we had waited until much later to source our wedding bands or delayed putting in the order for our wedding outfits until after March. Not only would the availability and selection for each have been limited, but we could have run the risk of not getting these essential items ready in time. Also, getting our wedding bands as early as in January gave us enough time to make further sizing and stylistic adjustments without compromising quality due to lack of time or resources.
The concept of roughly planning in the early stages of a project and then fine-tuning the details as the project progresses could not have served us any better for our event.
What benefit would have come from setting the florals, music, venue décor, specifics of the ceremony, and the dinner reception menu ahead of time? Once the pandemic’s short-to-medium term effects became clear, it caused a shift in almost all of our planning efforts up until that point. Provincial guidelines for social distancing impacted everything from our guest list’s size and what we could/could not do on our big day. The rapid frequency of change in regulations even made us question moving forward with our wedding venue and format.
In the end, we benefitted immensely from not worrying about our wedding’s finer details upfront, given that we lacked any control over the scope of our wedding amidst the early months of the pandemic. We aimed to delay making any definitive decisions until the last responsible moment, given that we would likely have to pivot if new information came in (regarding new restrictions) that impacted us. This mindset allowed us to keep our stress levels relatively low despite the seemingly high degree of chaos around us.
Frequent Touchpoints with Stakeholders
They say that it takes a village to raise a child. In dire times such as these, the saying can easily extend over to planning any major life event, such as a wedding.
In our case, resources were limited, and we had to rely on what we had available to make everything work. Our family, friends, venue coordinator, and the various vendor representatives stepped up for us. Everyone pitched in beyond what was typically expected of them and supported us in making our day happen. In fact, our “team” of family and friends helped lead many aspects, including music, décor, venue set-up, guest coordination, games, and photography, among other things.
The key to our success was facilitating frequent touchpoints with our team, constantly communicating our vision, maintaining transparency with them, and seeking continuous feedback on our planning progress. This approach allowed us to frequently uncover gaps or misrepresentations we had not previously thought through and adjust our plan accordingly. We empowered others around us by delegating tasks to not only avoid burning ourselves out, by making them part of the process by “owning” a particular aspect of the day, and best of all, fostering excitement for the event.
Making the Most of Things
In the end, there was so much that went into making our big day a success. We knew that we could not possibly get everything we wanted to be done in the throes of the global pandemic. However, we were OK with that, we were ultimately delighted with the finished product.
This is the beauty of agile-based project management: Delivering as much value as possible, within the scope of what is available at that moment in time.
I hope this advice provides other couples with confidence as they embark on their journeys toward planning their wedding, even in the face of uncertainty and adversity wrought by this pandemic.
If you’d like to learn more, get in touch, or even just share cat-memes on Instagram, feel free to reach out.