How to Use Agile Planning for Career Awesomeness

Jeff Walker

At the beginning of 2014, I was thinking about how we might create a meaningful review process. I am not a big fan of only yearly reviews. I don’t know about you, but I have no idea what I was doing a year ago and often, what was important at this time last year is not relevant now. So, how do we make a better process that helps drive career growth?

I already had a one-on-one process established where we have the “how’s it going?” discussion. I always start the conversation with “Are you having fun? Are you learning stuff? Are you building awesomeness?” The response I always get is “yes, yes, yes.” Then I ask, “What did you learn? What part was fun and what was not? What kept you from building awesomeness?” And that’s where the interesting conversations start. For me, learning, fun and building are intertwined.

At clypd, we are all about Agile. Quick to close the loop. Quick to make adjustments and make improvements through a retrospection process. How can we use that same process to drive career planning and growth?

A key part of Agile is the daily stand-up. What did you do yesterday? What are you planning to do today? What are the blockers and pain points? What  if we framed the same conversation around your career? What did we do last month to help your career growth? What are we going to do next month? Have your career goals changed in the last month?

Now we are onto something.

To start the process, when someone joins the company, I sit down with each person and get them to think about their goals. To frame the discussion, we talk about:

  • Feature area/domain
  • Technologies
  • Roles

These categories are relevant for software engineers, but you can imagine something similar for different areas, such as sales, business development, product management, etc.

Feature Area/Domain

This category is focused on areas of the product: such as front-end, back-end, visualization, data science, data architecture, application scaling, etc. This helps identify areas of the system that the engineer would like to work in, as well as areas that they might like to grow into.

Technologies

This category is focused on the technologies that the engineer would like to work in as well as their aspirations for growth. For clypd, our (current) technologies include Javascript, React, D3, Rails, Go, Postgres, R, Ansible, etc. This is also an opportunity to identify and advocate for technologies that we should look at. Go, D3, and Ansible are examples of technologies that we incorporated as a result of someone researching and advocating for them.

Roles

This category includes things like individual contributor, project lead, technical lead, architecture, or management. This includes outward facing roles as well. Activities such as attending/hosting meet-ups, mentorship in local college startup tanks, startup advisory roles, recruiting, etc.

Monthly Cadence

During each monthly meeting, we add an entry to the document with the date, “last month” and “next month.” We take a look through the stuff that we had planned on doing the previous month and see if we did the action item, or if we need to move it forward to the next month. These action items can be for the manager or the engineer.

It’s important to reference these action items back to the current goals at the top of the document. Items such as “lead project X” need to support one of the career goals at the top of the document.

I have found this one-on-one process to be super helpful in understanding what drives each individual. Goals and interests change over time as the individual grows. The regular cadence also forces the engineer to step back and think about their career goals.

Like all things Agile, it’s about constant improvement and refinement. Next up is to use this template for a yearly career retrospective. Stay tuned – I’ll let you know how it goes!

Jeff is the VP of Engineering at clypd. He manages the clypd engineering team, ensuring awesomeness all around. 

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