Agile Faculty: Practical Strategies for Managing Research, Service, and Teaching

Rebecca Pope-Ruark, PhD
Available from the University of Chicago Press and Amazon.
View the Table of Contents

While change can be slow in academia, the Agile Faculty approach provides a framework that can be used to make steady incremental progress toward your most meaningful professionals goals, the goals that will produce the most value over time for a satisfying career.

As faculty face competing calls for our time, attention, and effort, the Agile Faculty approach is designed to help you articulate your most meaningful goals and to design a strategic approach to achieve those goals and even modify them as opportunities and interests come and go.

What does “Agile” mean in Agile Faculty?

Agile Faculty borrows principles of Agile software development and adapts the practices of the most popular Agile framework, Scrum, for faculty work. Practitioners of Agile software development in industry have traded rigidly spec’ed project schedules and the separation between different groups working toward the same product goals in favor of a much more collaborative, just-in-time, human-centered – both in terms of valuing end users and members of working team – approach to projects. Rather than working to deliver an entire piece of software every few years, Agile teams deliver small increments of working product every few weeks, allowing them to be more responsive to change, resilient in the face of setbacks, and motivated by stead progress.

You don’t build software, so why should you be interested in Agile and Scrum?

Scrum is a lightweight framework for completing small but valuable chunks of work consistently over time. Regardless of whether you are building software with a large team, trying to finish a book-length study, working to make a committee you chair more productive, or designing a new course, Scrum provides an outline for how to approach that work in a productive way. Scrum an help faculty prioritize  projects, break each into discrete and manageable tasks, and visualize regular, incremental progress.

Also, the Scrum values – focus, commitment, openness, courage, and respect – are all characteristics of a productive, vital faculty member in today’s complex higher education landscape. If you are looking for a new method to articulate your professional goals and create a satisfying academic career,  Scrum strategies can help.

What does the book cover?

The book outlines the Scrum framework and offers step-by-step instructions for applying the strategies to managing individual and collaborative research, running committees, mentoring students and peers, (re)designing a course, and improving student team projects.

The first two chapters of Agile Faculty explore faculty vitality and productivity and then fully outline the Scrum process for managing work. These chapters provide the terminology and framework for the next six chapters. Chapters 3 and 4 show you how to use Scrum to manage research agendas and programs. Chapter 5 imagines what managing a committee with Scrum would look like, and Chapter 6 provides strategies for advising undergraduates, mentoring graduate students and new faculty members, and creating mutual mentoring groups for mid-career faculty. To apply Scrum to teaching and learning, Chapter 7 covers how to (re)design a course using Agile principles, and Chapter 8 looks at how to create effective team projects for students. Finally, an afterword imagines how we might use Agile and Scrum to disrupt and transform higher education – what would an Agile academy look like?

Who should read Agile Faculty, and how?

Agile Faculty is designed for faculty of all disciplines and all career stages. Graduate students can benefit from the productivity management strategies discussed as well. The strategies in each chapter are simple to understand and adapt in any context. Boxes throughout the chapters offer additional suggestions for department chairs and new faculty. I recommend reading Chapters 1 and 2 then choosing a chapter that best resonates with your current interests or challenges. Try out the strategies in that chapter, then pick a different chapter to explore.

I used the advice in Agile Faculty. Can I tell you about it?

Yes, absolutely! In the introduction to the book, I explain why most of the examples are mine or hypothetical – because the strategies aren’t being widely used in the context I’m presenting them. You might find Agile and Scrum in engineering schools and computing sciences programs, and I’ll bet those faculty and students use their strategies outside their programs as well. As you use test out the different chapters in the book, I’d love to hear how it’s going. Feel free to reach out through the Contact page or Tweet me. I imagine Agile Faculty as a iteration one of a truly Agile project – as you use the strategies and develop your own success stories (and challenges), I hope to replace the current book examples with yours.